Conversion to Organic Farming

In order for farmers to become certified organic producers, they must complete a certification procedure. The United States and most European countries have created regulations that apply to the production and sale of organically grown produce. All organic produce must carry a quality mark authorized by the government and provided to farmers by legal organizations that conduct strong verification systems with on-site annual inspections. Farmers willing to convert to organic farming must adhere to specific production standards and can be certified as organic only after three years of strictly following such standards.

From a management perspective, the process of conversion from a high-input conventional management to a low-input (or low-external input) management is a transitional process with four marked phases:

1. Progressive chemical withdrawal

2. Rationalization of agrochemical use through integrated pest management (IPM) and integrated nutrient management

3. Input substitution, using alternative, low-energy inputs

4. Redesign of diversified farming systems with an optimal crop/animal assemblage so that the system can support its own soil fertility, natural pest regulation, and crop productivity.

During the four phases, management is guided in order to ensure the following processes:

1. Increasing biodiversity both in the soil and aboveground

biomass the total dry 2. Increasing biomass production and soil organic matter content weight of an organism or group of organisms 3. Decreasing levels of pesticide residues and losses of nutrients and water

4. Establishment of functional relationships between the various farm components

5. Optimal planning of crop sequences and combinations and efficient use of locally available resources.

It is important to note that the conversion process can take anywhere from one to five years depending on the level of artificialization or degradation of the original high-input system. In addition, not all input substitution approaches are ecologically sound, as it is well established that some practices widely encouraged by some organic farming enthusiasts (such as flame-weeding and applications of broad spectrum insecticides) can have serious side effects and environmental impacts.

For scientists involved in transition research, an important outcome of these studies is the realization that the process of converting a conventional crop production system that relies heavily on synthetic, petroleum-based inputs to a legally certifiable, low-external input, organic system is not merely a process of withdrawing external inputs, with no compensatory replacement or alternative management. Considerable ecological knowledge is required to direct the array of natural flows necessary to sustain yields in a low-input system. see also Agricultural Ecosystems; Agriculture, History of; Agriculture, Modern; Agronomist; Compost; Soil, Chemistry of; Soil, Physical Characteristics of.

Miguel Altieri

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