Organic farming is a form of agriculture that relies on sustainable techniques to enhance the natural fertility of a farm, including crop rotation, companion planting, biological pest control, and naturally-sourced fertilizers such as compost, manure, green manure, and bone meal. Pest-control measures such as mixed crops and fostering natural insect predators, as well as naturally-sourced pesticides, are employed, while it excludes or strictly limits the use of synthetic petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides.
What is Organic Farming?
As per the definition of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study team on organic farming “organic farming is a system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetic inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, feed additives etc) and to the maximum extent feasible rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, off-farm organic waste, mineral grade rock additives and biological system of nutrient mobilization and plant protection”.
Organic farming system in India is not new and is being followed from ancient time. It is a method of farming system which primarily aimed at cultivating the land and raising crops in such a way, as to keep the soil alive and in good health by use of organic wastes (crop, animal and farm wastes, aquatic wastes) and other biological materials along with beneficial microbes (biofertilizers) to release nutrients to crops for increased sustainable production in an eco friendly pollution free environment.
What it is NOT!
Most people think of organic farming in terms of what is NOT allowed:
-Produce and grains are grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
-Animals are never fed the by-products of other animals, and are not kept constantly caged indoors, without access to fresh air, or opportunities to socialize with other animals
-Processed organic foods do not contain chemical preservatives or synthetic additives like colourings and waxes
But the fact is, simply removing agro-chemicals is not enough to turn a conventional farm into an organic farm. Organic farming is an active, labour-intensive process.
For example, organic farmers use quality compost, cover crops (such as nitrogen-rich alfalfa) and crop rotation to nourish soil naturally, and to allow it to rest and regenerate. Plants grown in healthy soil are better able to feed and protect themselves from pests and disease, which means they won’t require heavy applications of fertilizers and pesticides. The expression, “Feed the soil, not the plant” is a familiar refrain among organic farmers.
Organic farmers are also careful about how they store and compost animal wastes, in order to safeguard air and water systems. They tailor their crops according to climate and soil, to optimise the natural growth cycle. Organic farmers also promote biodiversity, by growing a variety of crops, rather than one single crop. Through all of these methods, organic farmers prevent soil erosion, conserve energy, and help protect local wildlife, stream banks and watersheds. They help protect the global environment, as well: organic farming can greatly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, that contribute to global warming. Click here to read a global report on The Role of Organic Agriculture in Mitigating Climate Change. Organic farming helps prevent topsoil erosion, improves soil fertility, protects groundwater and conserves energy.
Today, organic farming is practiced in almost every country in the world. According to the 2004 report of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (FOAM), more than 24 million hectares of agricultural land are now managed organically across the globe.
For a true comparison of carbon footprint (based on carbon equivalency) from organic farming and conventional farming, the following five challenges should be considered:
- Large-scale commercial manure composting as compared to synthesizing nitrogen for farming.
- Machinery to haul around manure compost.
- Yields of organic farming versus conventional farming.
- Tillage of land of organic farming versus “no till” conventional farming.
- Cows needed for producing manure for organic and carbon equivalency of cow burping and flatulence.