Conventional vs. Organic Farming Series, Part III: Benefits of Organic Farming

organic marketThe word “organic” has a holistic, deep-rooted implication referring to living organisms. The term comprises of a system of farmer, food and consumer. According to the organic philosophy, consumer’s health is achieved by “whole, fresh and organically raised food.” (Oelhaf, 1978).

Organic means a special and nurtured connection between the farmer and the soil. The philosophy of the food system starts with the soil; this is the center of attention of organic farming. Organic farmers perceive themselves as feeders of the soil and thus indirect feeders of the plants. So, feeding the soil life starts with compost and other natural materials and then in turn the microbes in the soil feed the plants.

In the part I and part II of the conventional vs. organic series, I identified environmental and health issues associated with the practice of conventional farming. I use these issues to emphasize the following benefits that the organic agriculture brings to the people and the environment.

  1. The organically-farmed soil has significantly higher organic matter content, higher soil productivity and much less erosion than the conventionally farmed soil. The practice of using mulches, organic fertilizers and cover crops in organic farming helps increase the soil’s water infiltration and retention capacity. These techniques are very relevant for porous soils of the tropics which are particularly susceptible to erosion due to heavy rainfall. Organic agriculture is helping farmers to protect values of the very precious foundation in farming – the topsoil. The topsoil of organically managed farms is normally 6” thicker than on conventional farms.
  2. Organic farming poses much less harm to wildlife and landscape than conventional farming. A significantly higher biodiversity level is generally recorded in organic farming. The above mentioned principles of harmony between the farmer, the soil and the consumer help stabilize agro-ecosystems, maintain ecological balances, and develop organic processes that are close to their natural equilibrium. Also, in organic agriculture, live species carry out a variety of ecological services that serve to organic systems of farming. Some of them include pollination, pest control and the maintenance of soil fertility.
  3. The absence of pesticides prevents pesticide pollution and increases the number of plant species in the agricultural fields. This is especially good for natural pest control and pollinators.
  4. Organic farming reduces the possibility of abuse of antibiotics.
  5. Nitrate leaching to the environment rates are dramatically lower in organic agriculture than in conventional agriculture systems. The reasons behind the lower nitrate leaching in organic farming are attributable to the exclusion of nitrogen-based fertilizers and its lower livestock concentrations, as prescribed by the organic agriculture standards.
  6. Organic farming relies on a closed nitrogen cycle and on nitrogen input via N2 fixation by legumes. This generates management practices that also reduce emissions of reactive nitrogen.benefits of organic farming
  7. Organic farming implements the recycling of animal manure what helps maintain soil nutrients and avoids soil degradation.
  8. There is no danger to food quality associated with organic farming. Excessive nitrogen fertilization is improbable because with a diversified organic agriculture high nitrogen concentrations in food or water are very unlikely. Food contamination from manure is also unlikely due to strict regulations associated with organic farming. These regulations do not allow use of uncomposted manure or manure that was not applied at least 90 days before harvest. This gives enough time for microorganisms to break down pathogens.
  9. Fresh produce that is nurtured in accordance with organic philosophy has higher nutrient content in comparison with preserved and chemically treated food.
  10. Organic farming uses less energy and reduces net greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) per unit of agricultural area for arable farming systems. According to calculations performed by Rodale Institute, each acre of organic arable land can eliminate 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. A 2008 study titled “Cool farming: Climate impacts of agriculture and mitigation potential” by Dr. Pete Smith showed that crop rotation and organic practices reduce GHG reductions, while the yields remain the same. A research by Ragossnig & Hilger (2008) showed that the use of organic fertilizers reduces GHG emissions.
  11. In developed countries, organic farming has been shown to narrow the producer-consumer gap in addition to enhancing local food markets.
  12. In rural areas, organic farming has a potential of decreasing local food surplus and expanding employment.
  13. In developing countries, organic agriculture improves women’s and marginalized smallholders’ participation because it does not rely on purchased inputs and reduces the need for credit.

To conclude, embracing the simple wisdom of the organic farming promises a lot of good things without pushing the limits to adaptation and without endangering environmental sustainability.

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