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    Organic Farming Background Information

    Definition

    Organic farming is the form of agriculture that relies on crop rotation, green manure, compost, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and control pests, excluding or strictly limiting the use of synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, plant growth regulators, livestock feed additives, and genetically modified organisms.

    Topics of Interest

    Since 1990, the market for organic products has grown at a rapid pace, to reach $46 billion in 2007. This demand has driven a similar increase in organically managed farmland. Approximately 32.2 million hectares worldwide are now farmed organically, representing approximately 0.8 percent of total world farmland. In addition, as of 2007 organic wild products are harvested on approximately 30 million hectares.

    Organic agricultural methods are internationally regulated and legally enforced by many nations, based in large part on the standards set by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), an international umbrella organization for organic organizations established in 1972. IFOAM defines the overarching goal of organic farming as follows:

      "Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.."

    The organic movement began in the 1930s and 1940s as a reaction to agriculture's growing reliance on synthetic fertilizers. Artificial fertilizers had been created during the 18th century, initially with superphosphates and then ammonia derived fertilizers mass-produced using the Haber-Bosch process developed during World War I. These early fertilizers were cheap, powerful, and easy to transport in bulk. Similar advances occurred in chemical pesticides in the 1940s, leading to the decade being referred to as the 'pesticide era'.

    Organic farming methods combine scientific knowledge of ecology and modern technology with traditional farming practices based on naturally occurring biological processes. Organic farming methods are studied in the field of agroecology. While conventional agriculture uses synthetic pesticides and water-soluble synthetically purified fertilizers, organic farmers are restricted by regulations to using natural pesticides and fertilizers. The principal methods of organic farming include crop rotation, green manures and compost, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation. These measures use the natural environment to enhance agricultural productivity: legumes are planted to fix nitrogen into the soil, natural insect predators are encouraged, crops are rotated to confuse pests and renew soil, and natural materials such as potassium bicarbonate and mulches are used to control disease and weeds. Organic farmers are careful in their selection of plant breeds, and organic researchers produce hardier plants through plant breeding rather than genetic engineering.

    Biological control of pests in agriculture is a method of controlling pests (including insects, mites, weeds and plant diseases) that relies on predation, parasitism, herbivory, or other natural mechanisms. It can be an important component of integrated pest management (IPM) programs.

    Biological Control is defined as the reduction or protection of pest populations by natural enemies and typically involves an active human role. Natural enemies of insect pests, also known as biological control agents, include predators, parasitoids, and pathogens. Biological control agents of plant diseases are most often referred to as antagonists. Biological control agents of weeds include herbivores and plant pathogens. Predators, such as lady beetles and lacewings, are mainly free-living species that consume a large number of prey during their lifetime. Parasitoids are species whose immature stage develops on or within a single insect host, ultimately killing the host. Most have a very narrow host range. Many species of wasps and some flies are parasitoids. Pathogens are disease-causing organisms including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. They kill or debilitate their host and are relatively specific to certain insect groups. There are three basic types of biological control strategies; conservation, classical biological control, and augmentation.

    Organic certification is a certification process for producers of organic food and other organic agricultural products. In general, any business directly involved in food production can be certified, including seed suppliers, farmers, food processors, retailers and restaurants. Requirements vary from country to country, and generally involve a set of production standards for growing, storage, processing, packaging and shipping.

    Under USDA organic standards, manure must be subjected to proper thermophilic composting and allowed to reach a sterilizing temperature. If raw animal manure is used, 120 days must pass before the crop is harvested if the final product comes into direct contact with the soil. For products which do not come into direct contact with soil, 90 days must pass prior to harvest.

    Consumer surveys have consistently identified food quality as the main reason for purchasing organic food. Higher nutritional value, no toxic residues from pesticides, and better taste are often cited, as is the positive impact of organic production on the environment. Whether organic food actually delivers on these desires and beliefs is controversial and the subject of scientifically inconclusive debate. The debate centers on a variety of specific and supposedly demonstrable characteristics which proponents claim make organic food superior to the product of conventional farming and processing.

    Most organic farms use fewer pesticides than conventional farms, some pesticides damage the environment or with direct exposure human health. The main five pesticides used in organic farming are Bt (a bacterial toxin), pyrethrum, rotenone, copper and sulphur. Surveys have found that fewer than 10% of organic farmers use these pesticides regularly; one survey found that only 5.3% of vegetable growers in California use rotenone while 1.7% use pyrethrum. Reduction and elimination of chemical pesticide use is technologically challenging and organic pesticides are often used to complement other pest control strategies.

    Pesticide runoff is one of the most significant effects of pesticide use. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service tracks the environmental risk posed by pesticide water contamination from farms, and its conclusion has been that "the Nation's pesticide policies during the last twenty six years have succeeded in reducing overall environmental risk, in spite of slight increases in area planted and weight of pesticides applied. Nevertheless, there are still areas of the country where there is no evidence of progress, and areas where risk levels for protection of drinking water, fish, algae and crustaceans remain high".

    Pest resistant genetically modified crops have been proposed as an alternative to pesticide use, however concerns over the safety and the long term benefits of genetically modified food, result in the genetic modification being widely opposed in the organic farming movement.

    Organic foods are made according to certain production standards. For the vast majority of human history, agriculture can be described as organic; only during the 20th century was a large supply of new synthetic chemicals introduced to the food supply. This more recent style of production is referred to as "conventional," though organic production has been the convention for a much greater period of time. Under organic production, the use of conventional non-organic pesticides, insecticides and herbicides is greatly restricted and saved as a last resort. However, contrary to popular belief, certain non-organic fertilizers are still used. If livestock are involved, they must be reared without the routine use of antibiotics and without the use of growth hormones, and generally fed a healthy diet. In most countries, organic produce may not be genetically modified. It has been suggested that the application of nanotechnology to food and agriculture is a further technology that needs to be excluded from certified organic food. The Soil Association (UK) has been the first organic certifier to implement a nano-exclusion.

    Organic clothing is clothing that is made from materials that are raised or grown without the use of chemicals in the form of pesticides - herbicides or other chemicals. Cotton covers 2.5% of the world's cultivated land yet uses 16% of the world's insecticides, more than any other single major crop.

    Controversy: A number of critics contest the notion that organic agricultural systems are more friendly to the environment and more sustainable than high-yielding farming systems. Among these critics are Norman Borlaug, father of the "green revolution," Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who asserts that organic farming practices can at most feed 4 billion people, after expanding cropland dramatically and destroying ecosystems in the process, and Prof A. Trewavas.

    In 1998, Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute claimed the risk of E. coli infection was eight times higher when eating organic food rather than non-organic food, using the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as a source. When the CDC was contacted, it stated that there was no evidence for the claim. The New York Times commented on Avery's attacks: "The attack on organic food by a well-financed research organization suggests that, though organic food accounts for only 1 percent of food sales in the United States, the conventional food industry is worried."

    Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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