The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines organic farming as a system of agriculture that creates a production system managed to respond to site-specific conditions that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster the cycling of resources, promotes ecological balance, and conserves biodiversity.
That’s a long way to say that organic farming uses natural practices instead of synthetic ones to growth healthy crops by using resources that create healthy soils.
Although there are many ways to farm today, taking the organic approach makes it possible to offer consumers products that are free from harmful chemicals. The procedures required of farmers ensures that animal welfare is a top priority. This process gives consumers an opportunity to make conscious choices that support the environment instead of promoting long-term degradation.
“And organic farmer is the best peacemaker today because there is more violence, more death, more destruction, more wars, through a violent industrial agricultural system,” said Vandana Shiva. “And to shift away from that into an agriculture of peace is what organic farming is doing.”
These are the organic farming pros and cons to consider when looking at this practice.
List of the Pros of Organic Farming
1. Organic farming does not use genetically-modified products.
If you are choosing organic foods, then you are purchasing products which are not genetically modified using artificial methods. GMOs are not allowed within the industry. You will still experience products that are cross-bred naturally by the farmers to take advantage of specific growth characteristics, but this process is done through pollination or breeding instead of genetic splicing and dicing.
2. Organic farming helps to support healthier soils.
Farmers often use a pattern of crop rotation as a way to support a healthy balance of nutrients in their soil. A standard rotational process in the U.S. Midwest might involve planting corn for one year, then planting oats for the second year, before allowing the land to be used for pasture or hay crops for the next 2-6 years. This process creates higher content levels of organic matter and better aeration that can promote better productivity.
Better soils happen because there are no synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, or chemicals applied to the crops grown on the farm either. Only natural enhancements of the soil are permitted if the land is going to be certified for organic use.
3. Organic farming produces foods that are better for you.
There are numerous boosts to flavor profiles and nutritional content when organic farming is the preferred method in use. Peaches grown this way typically have a higher polyphenol content, which is why they taste better. Cows that are given room to graze in a pasture produce dairy products which contain higher levels of Vitamin E and Omega-3s to support a stronger antioxidant profile for consumers. Conventional farming might produce a greater quantity of food items, but organic farming improves the overall quality of the food so that consumers don’t have to eat as much.
4. Organic farming support pollinating insects.
Farmers that use organic methods are not using synthetic agents like glyphosate or neonicotinoids that create a high risk for harm to the pollinating insects that support crop systems all over the world. These substances were shown by Harvard researchers to be one of the primary causes of Colony Collapse Disorder. Up to 40% of honeybee colonies died between 2014-2015 and found that neonicotinoids, which are the most widely used insecticides for commercial growing, were responsible for six times more loss when compared to Nosema, which is a parasitic fungus.
5. Organic farming creates a healthier work environment.
Local communities, employees, and even the farmers themselves are not exposed to synthetic agricultural chemicals when following organic process. When too much exposure occurs, there can be issues with toxicity that occur. People who come into contact with pesticides regularly as part of their job duties suffer a higher risk of neurological disease when compared to the general population. Farmers can suffer from a variety of bothersome symptoms as well, ranging from memory loss to headaches to chronic fatigue.
6. Organic farming promotes a greater resistance to pests and disease.
Healthier plants grow when the soil foundations that support their roots have a natural profile of disease resistance. This process encourages the plants to become naturally resistant to disease and pests because they have a stronger immune profile. Their defense mechanisms work to repel invaders when there is an appropriate pH level and other optimal conditions present, such as sunlight and water. It creates a thicker plant cell wall that creates healthier plant growth overall.
7. Organic farming uses natural fertilizers to encourage better yields.
Organic farmers do not plant their seeds and then let nature run its course. They use a variety of soil fertility methods which support the growth infrastructure of their crops. Techniques like the use of green manure, worm farming, compost application, and cover crops help to reinforce the stability of the soil while managing pests, weeds, and other potential hazards that workers encounter during the growing season. Each method helps to maintain the long-term productivity of the fields while encouraging higher levels of biodiversity at the local level.
8. Organic farming offers profitable niche crop opportunities.
One of the most significant advantages of organic farming is the opportunity to begin diversifying the products which are cultivated each year. Conventional farms rely on cash crops as a way to earn profits to continue their operations. That is why soybeans and corn become the primary crops grown at these facilities. Organic farmers have an opportunity to grow several different varieties of items, including heirloom produce, that can be sold throughout the year at a higher overall price.
Heirloom crops offer an exceptional taste profile, the potential for better nutrition, and the opportunities to save seeds each year for additional replanting. They are less uniform during ripening to create better product availability. Their seeds are usually less expensive than hybrids as well.
9. Organic farming is an eco-friendly method of growing to use.
Organic farming offers benefits to our climate to consider as well. The processes involved with this method help to store carbon in our soils. It reduces the energy requirements necessary to produce a crop because physical labor is used more often than mechanical tools. There is a reduction in the use of petroleum-based products when taking the organic approach, which means fewer greenhouse gas emissions to consider. It will even support the natural ecosystems that store carbon as well, such as our prairies and forests.
10. Organic farming can help future generations find success.
Organic farming methods focus on creating a restorative process for our soils that makes it possible to continue using them indefinitely for crop production. Instead of focusing on significant short-term profits that potentially destroy the land and the surrounding natural resources, this process encourages us to live and work within our means. It seeks to increase the natural capital values found on our planet instead of reducing them. That’s why organic methods, when they are correctly implemented, can help to create long-term sustainable food chains that will support a growing population.
List of the Cons of Organic Farming
1. Organic farming operations are rarely subsidized.
This disadvantage primarily applies to the United States. There are programs available, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, that will pay producers to transition from conventional farming methods to organic work. Some programs will assist farmers in the costs of certifying their land as being organic. There are crop insurance subsidies available as well. What you won’t find are the direct payments made to inflate the pricing schemes and artificial methods to enhance yields that can make going organic financially challenging for some.
2. Organic farming lacks a supportive infrastructure in the United States.
European farmers get to avoid this disadvantage of organic farming as well. There is a lack of special infrastructure in the United States that supports the natural methods used in this agricultural style. That means organic farmers use the same industrial transportation methods to get food on the tables of consumers as the cash crop farmers use for their yields. That means the same harmful practices that are in place can still create environmental damage even if soil-friendly methods are used to grow the crops initially.
3. Organic farming still uses fungicides and pesticides.
The keyword to consider when looking at organic farming processes is this: “synthetic.” There are still several fungicides and pesticides which are available to use when following organic farming processes. The only requirement is that the product must come from a natural source instead of a synthetic one. These items are still potentially harmful because they require repetitive applications, promoting soil storage of the compounds that may exceed safe concentration levels in some areas.
4. Organic farming does not always account for previous practices.
Transitioning from conventional farming to an organic approach is something that benefits the world’s food chain thanks to all of the advantages involved. Unfortunately, the issue of synthetic chemicals staying in the soil can exist for farmers who switch their practices for decades because of their concentration levels. Farms can still sell products that are labeled as “organic” in this situation because their current methods follow the published guidelines. The food might still contain trace amounts of synthetic items despite the labeling and practices involved because of previous production methods on the same land.
5. Organic farming requires more work than conventional methods.
Organic farming requires a lot of physical work to create a successful experience. It needs workers to physically control the weeds and apply cultivation techniques. There are ways to reduce this disadvantage by focusing on biointensive farming or permaculture, but it also requires more of a personal touch than what conventional cash-farming methods require. Even if you take the time to experiment with different production methods, it can take years of trial-and-error to find the best combination of methods that maximize profits.
6. Organic farming requires specific knowledge to be successful.
Organic farmers must have an understanding of their land’s soil ecology. They must know how to develop natural systems that work with their climate and crops. Farmers must invest time in learning about industry innovations or finding alternative solutions because the support systems that help conventional farms are not always available. This process relies on the experience of workers as they monitor crops during the crucial periods of growth to ensure the plants grow in healthy ways. Without this knowledge and the ambition to apply it, this method cannot be successful.
7. Organic farming faces several marketing challenges to consider.
Conventional farmers have a defined market which allows them to sell their produce and farm products. They can ship to grocery stores, access a lucrative export market, and still reach local consumers. Organic products face a different challenge. Even if there are opportunities for farming co-ops, grocery store inclusion, and local markets that operate on specific days, this industry does not have the same levels of access for product sales in most communities. That makes it difficult for the farmers to maximize their profit potential when selling their products.
8. Organic farmers must go through a significant certification process.
Did you know that there are different levels of “organic” in the United States? Each product goes through a different certification procedure to have this labeling opportunity available. Items that are 100% organic receive a specific label which indicates every process follows the industry standards. If something is just “organic,” then 95% or more of the ingredients are organic, but there can be USDA-approved chemical additives added to the item before it reaches the market. If something is “made from organic ingredients,” then only specific items follow industry processes.
The pros and cons of organic farming seek to find a balance between the better nutrition that is available from this method with the access challenges that workers face when trying to sell their product to local consumers. Even with the potential for subsidies and grants to offset some of the costs of becoming an organic producer, the disadvantages found in this industry can drive some farmers away.
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.