Organic production (OP) has been defined as a "holistic production management system that promotes and enhances agroecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity" (FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission, 2001, p. 3). This production system emphasizes use of cultural, mechanical, and biological management practices instead of external inputs such as synthetic pesticides. Production is based on management practices for site-specific conditions that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Marketing Service, 2001).
In a recent study, Reganold et al. (2001) found, in comparisons of conventional, integrated, and OP systems in apple, organic management achieved the greatest levels of both economic and environmen tal sustainability, followed by integrated, and then by conventional systems. Because of the minimal use of synthetic inputs and greater emphasis placed on long-term sustainability, there are many differences between conventional and OP systems. One of the greatest differences between conventional and organic systems is the emphasis placed on soil health and conservation in OP systems. Organic systems utilize compost, manure, or other natural organic matter to improve soil fertility, which will in turn be used by fruit trees, while conventional systems rely on synthetic fertilizer applications to supply nutrients to fruit trees themselves and not necessarily to improve overall soil fertility or sustainability. The specific nutrient contribution of composted organic matter can vary, and therefore soil and nutrient management requires careful, long-term planning (Edwards, 1998). Organic growers must carefully consider orchard sites, root-stocks, and cultivars. Rootstock as well as cultivar choices are extremely important, as some are more resistant to specific pests and diseases. Some regions may not be amendable for OP. For example, in areas of high rainfall, control of moisture-dependent diseases may not be economically feasible under OP standards because synthetic pesticides and genetically engineered plants are not permitted. As with IPM and IFP, cultural controls such as cover crops, cultivation, or mulches are used to manage weeds. However, unlike IFP, IPM, or conventional systems, no synthetic inputs, e.g., herbicides, are permitted. Therefore, weed control is a major challenge for OP, especially in young orchards where weed competition can reduce bearing potential. If a control strategy is needed for insect pests, growers utilize augmentation of natural enemies, mating disruption, traps, and barriers. Pests and diseases also can be controlled with botanical or other naturally occurring pesticides that are approved under the guidelines for OP certification programs. However, these materials can have adverse effects on nontarget organisms. Therefore, components of IPM programs, such as monitoring to determine when applications of these materials are necessary, are important in OP as well. Under OP, only hand thinning is permitted.
Because postharvest treatments with synthetic fungicides are not permitted, cultural practices such as sanitation in orchards and packinghouses are crucial for reduction of fruit rot and contamination if fruit are held in storage. Currently, growers who meet OP criteria can be certified under local, regional, or national programs to use an organic label to market their fruit as grown under what is considered to be an ecologically responsible production system based on long-term sus-tainability.
Public demand for high-quality fruit grown with ecological and environmental considerations is likely to continue. Therefore, emphasis on development and implementation of alternative production systems such as IPM, IFP, and OP also will increase.
Related Topics: DISEASES; INSECTS AND MITES; ORCHARD FLOOR MANAGEMENT; PLANT-PEST RELATIONSHIPS AND THE ORCHARD ECOSYSTEM; SOIL MANAGEMENT AND PLANT FERTILIZATION
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