Organic farming is a production system that sustains agricultural productivity while avoiding or largely excluding synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Whenever possible, external resources, such as commercially purchased chemicals and fuels, are replaced by resources found on or near the farm. These internal resources include solar or wind energy, biological pest controls, and biologically fixed nitrogen and other nutrients released from organic matter or from soil reserves. Thus organic farmers rely heavily on the use of crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, compost, legumes, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, mechanical cultivation, mineral-bearing rocks, and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients, and to control insect pests, weeds, and diseases. In essence, organic farming aims to promote soil health as the key to sustaining productivity, and most organic practices are designed to improve the ability of the soil to support plant and microorganism life.
In contrast, conventional farming is characterized by monoculture systems that are heavily dependent on the use of synthetic fertilizers and pes
ticides. Although such systems are productive and able to furnish low-cost food, they also often bring a variety of environmental effects such as pesticide pollution, soil erosion, water depletion, and biodiversity reduction. Increasingly, scientists, farmers, and the public in general have questioned the sustainability of modern agrochemically based agriculture. A large number of organic farmers do use modern machinery, recommended crop varieties, certified seed, sound livestock management, recommended soil and water conservation practices, and innovative methods of organic waste recycling and residue management. Clearly, though, there are sharp contrasts between organic and conventional agriculture.
Most management systems used by organic farmers feature legume-based rotations, the application of compost, and several diversified cropping systems, including crop-livestock mixtures. Through the adoption of such practices, organic farmers aim at:
• building up soil organic matter and soil biota
• minimizing pest, disease, and weed damage
• conserving soil, water, and biodiversity resources
• long-term agricultural productivity
• optimal nutritional value and quality of produce
• creating an aesthetically pleasing environment.
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