More and more people have been embracing the idea of organic farming lately, concerned with health and environment care issues, or striving for new gastronomic experiences.
Switching to organic agriculture brings promising prospects both in terms of welfare and nature improvement as well as food diversity. Benefits of organic farming also include another significant aspect – the higher nutritional value of natural food as compared to the one grown with chemical additives.
Despite higher prices, lots of consumers prefer to purchase natural products, with high demand involving the necessity of increased supplies and the exploration of organic farming practices.
What Is Organic Farming?
Organic farming is an agricultural approach that advocates healthy products free from components that may harm humans and nature. They include but are not limited to industrial pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, clones, GMOs, chemical medications, hormones, growth-boosters, etc.
The basic idea of organic agriculture is to provide food with optimum nutritional value and minimum dangerous ingredients, with only permitted substances used. The principle also requires 100% natural forage for livestock and its further processing without synthetics.
Organic farming practices involve care for field employees, and aim at maintaining the harmonious balance in the environment keeping it as alive and productive as possible.
Principles Of Organic Agriculture
Organic farming methods accord with the four basic principles that reveal their essence: health, ecology, fairness, and care. They are the driving force of the concept, interrelating and enhancing each other. For instance, pesticides used in organic farming spare the ecology and do not evoke side effects in living beings, promoting health.
These principles of agriculture govern all the process stages including production, processing, delivery, storage, and consumption. No prohibited additives are applied.
The principle of health in organic farming suggests avoiding dangerous chemicals leaving poisonous residues that have a negative impact on multiple levels, affecting microscopic soil organisms, crops, animals, and humans. Expanding the common saying to agriculture, we can state that healthy soil produces healthy crops, and healthy crops foster a sound mind in a sound body – with good immunity, regeneration properties, and no disease suffered.
The principle of ecology in farming involves utilizing environmentally friendly techniques like the ones fostering soil quality (preventing depletion, erosion, degradation) or eliminating nature pollution. It also means providing favorable living conditions for all ecosystem members since they closely interconnect. Eco-practices in agriculture maintain the proper balance and save natural resources, for example, restore soil fertility with non-synthetic matters (green and animal manures), encourage recycling and genetic diversity of species in the area.
The principle of fairness in organic farming advocates a decent and respectful attitude to all participants of the business: farmers, suppliers, traders, consumers. It promotes appropriate working and living conditions and supports people’s needs for sufficient supplies of quality food products.
Fairness in farming also suggests providing proper feeding and environment for livestock and cattle responding to their physiology. Pricing policies should be justified and affordable.
The principle of care in agriculture encourages sparing consumption of resources with upcoming generations and nature in mind. Applied farming technologies should be thoroughly assessed as to negative consequences. Precaution and timely risk management must govern any decision making.
Even though innovations may prove efficient, the organic farming followers prefer traditional methods of agriculture validated by time. Nowadays, they combine common sense, reliable knowledge, applicable novelties, and indigenous experience dating back to the pre-chemical age.
Organic Farming Practices
The organic agriculture concept requires strict compliance with established standards that define and restrict applicable techniques. The common and approved ones include the following.
Crop rotation means changing species on the same field season by season. This agriculture technique may also include a fallow period within a certain interval of time.
Compared to monoculture farming practices, crop rotation:
- eradicates pest and weed infestations and chemical contaminations to tackle the issues (since different species suffer from different pests);
- prevents soil erosion with different root systems;
- protects soil from depletion as diverse plants boost nutrient release, thus eliminating synthetic fertilizer applications that are disapproved in organic agriculture;
- boost yields and reduces costs.
This farming approach implies covering the field with any plant species, either for a certain season or perennially, partially between the crop rows or completely. Cover crops tackle soil erosion, improve water filtration and aeration with their roots. They also eliminate weeding with upper parts, by hiding unwanted vegetation from the sunlight.
Mixing green plants with the soil enriches it with organic matters and nitrogen in particular. It also increases moisture levels and adds nutrients for microorganisms, thus improving the soil quality. The described method of agriculture also reduces weed infestation.
This organic farming practice enriches the soil with natural components that originated from animals, either raw or composted (excluding slaughter by-products). The method has restrictions though, as the material must not contain any synthetic additives, the soil must be tested before applications, and manures are allowed at least three months prior to harvesting.
Composted forms are preferable since they are more compact in volume and contain fewer potential pathogens and contaminants.
Integrated Weed Management
Heavy chemicals are prohibited in organic farming. That’s why weed control is performed via other options of integrated weed management (prevention, biological, physical, and cultural):
- avoiding weed penetration onto the field with machinery, animals, irrigation waters;
- manual weeding;
- crop rotation;
- natural chemicals to stop germination;
- haymaking before weed seeding;
- introducing populations of birds/insects to consume weed seeds, etc.
Integrated Pest Management
To combat pests, organic farming does not intend to destroy them completely as it will cause ecosystem changes. This concept of agriculture strongly relies on the alternative methods of pest control: prevention, constructing natural barriers, physical removal, and tackling pest invasions with their biological enemies (predators) like ladybugs vs aphids.
As to synthetic additives, the concept allows only mild pesticides approved for organic farming, without disputable properties and minimum harm to humans and nature. Such additives include soap, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, sulfur, or natural pest repellents like neem, citronella, lavender oil, among others.
The organic agriculture guidelines exclude dangerous and dubious additives to breed poultry and cattle like synthetic medications, growth-boosting drugs and hormones, antibiotics, non-organic forage, GMOs, clones, etc. Farming practices must provide proper conditions for raising and grazing, and create a suitable environment to ensure livestock natural behavior indoors and outdoors.
Used in complex, the methods bring the desired results.
Organic Farming Pros And Cons
The benefits of organic farming to mankind, biosphere communities, environment, and ag business in general explain its popularity in the recent 15 years. As early as in 2008, the volume of retail organic food in the US was estimated at $22.9 billion, according to the Ministry of food, agriculture and rural affairs in Canada.
The agriculture approach has multiple advantages both to producers and consumers. However, it is far from perfect. The gains and challenges it introduces are enlisted below.
Advantages Of Organic Farming
The concept and practices of organic agriculture have certain pluses:
- refused health-threatening chemicals;
- avoided costs for expensive synthetic additives;
- ensured food quality and certification;
- improved product taste and nutritional value;
- protected environment;
- recycled natural wastes for manure;
- boosted soil quality.
Disadvantages Of Organic Farming
The drawbacks of organic agriculture include:
- reduced production volumes;
- increased farming labor and time consumption for manual and mechanical work, crop observation, and uncompromised compliance with standards;
- frequent pest and weed control instead of one-time chemical applications;
- shortened shelf-life (natural organic food usually spoils faster due to the absence of preservatives);
- higher prices of organic products vs conventional ones.
Is Organic Farming Sustainable?
Organic agriculture supports the ecosystem balance and spares natural resources. This approach ensures the availability and productivity of lands in the future. It echoes with sustainable agriculture in this regard:
- improves the soil quality;
- reduces pollution with recycling and limitations of chemicals;
- enhances the ecosystem biodiversity;
- saves energy and resources, disapproves their excessive exploitation;
- applies non-chemical methods of pest and weed management;
- provides natural conditions to support livestock needs and behavior.
Organic Farming With Crop Monitoring
Advanced agriculture technologies based on satellite data detect critical issues, give timely alerts, and recommend prompt solutions. Crop Monitoring is an online tool that facilitates farming processes and helps with agricultural decision-making. The platform assists organic producers with monitoring vegetation levels, compares changes in vegetation values during the last five years based on historical data, and helps to reduce cost on soil testing, allowing timely reaction on the first signs of erosion.
Additionally, the farming software is capable of determining the state of the vegetation based on the correlation of vegetation indices data and growth stages (offering a unique approach for each crop).
Crop Monitoring also aids in measuring and determining important soil characteristics that affect its fertility, including moisture level (since long-term soil fertility is one of the key objectives in organic farming).
One of the key features of Crop Monitoring is Zoning, a method of identifying vegetation variations on the field. This method can be successfully employed in organic farming, saving resources. Our platform offers two types of Zoning: Productivity maps and Vegetation maps, performing slightly different functions.
The productivity maps are based on the historical vegetation data analysis and allow farmers to apply the differential sowing method, thus saving extra cost on expensive seed supplies.
The vegetation maps, on the other hand, reveal current vegetation variations across the field, allowing for differential fertilization, a valuable organic agriculture method. Based on the data from the vegetation maps, farmers can apply fertilizers with more precision according to the needs of each individual zone. This prevents nitrogen accumulation in the soil, saves resources, and costs.
Additionally, Crop Monitoring can help with scheduling irrigation events according to real plant water needs. We offer a scouting feature to assist scouts in the field to make highly informed decisions. Combined with our 9 by 9 km 14-day weather forecast and ground moisture sensors, farmers can use our app to adjust irrigation plans. Proper distribution of water across the field perfectly adheres to the principles of organic farming, saving resources, preventing accidental water-logging, while boosting yields and reducing costs.
Crop Monitoring helps agriculturalists to cope with the challenges they face in organic crop and livestock production, thus facilitating the concept exploration and implementation. While the approach disadvantages are eliminated, there still remain multiple benefits of organic agriculture to enjoy.