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Is Organic Farming Old Fashioned or the Wave of the Future?

Nutritional buzz words like “diet” and “low-fat” have taken a backseat to the new word that’s been on everyone’s tongue over the last decade--organic. 

Since 2002, all food sold in the U.S.--locally grown or imported--must meet strict standards defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be called “organic’. Basically, farmers must use renewable resources, conserve water, not use antibiotics, growth hormones, synthetic fertilizers, or pesticides. 

While those requirements might conjure up visions of happy farmers waking at sunrise, happily tending to their crops and animals while whistling happy tunes, there’s a lot more to organic farming. To some organic farmers, it’s all about embracing how nature works to maintain balance in the ecosystem, including: 

Fertilizers — crop rotations, cover crops, green manures, and animal manures are used instead of synthetic fertilizers made of chemicals. 

Weeds & Insects — Biological control and crop rotations are used to manage weeds, insects and diseases. 

Conservation — being conscious of water and best uses of soil, plus other practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological balance. 

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the organic farming industry. There are also negative aspects to the industry: Here is a list of the top pros and cons of organic farming: 

PROS 

1 Better nutrition — foods raised through organic farming have a higher nutritional content and generally taste better than foods raised by conventional means. 

2 Healthier work environments — Without the prevalence of chemical fertilizers and weed and pest control products, organic farming creates a non-toxic working environment that helps reduce health problems, such as headaches and respiratory conditions. 

3 Soil protection — organic farming makes the soil more fertile, protecting it from being stripped of its healthy components by pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.  

4 Chemical-free agents — naturally-occurring fertilizers made from green manure, cover crops, and compost, along with growing companion crops that repel insects, results in crops with more nutrients and a higher resistance to pests and diseases. 

5 No genetically modified organisms (GMOs) — organic farming saves costs by reducing the risk of crop mutations.

CONS

1 Higher costs — investments to have the soil meet the organic certification criteria are higher than with traditional farming methods. 

2 More work — more physical labor is required to plant & maintain crops and raise animals, along with controlling weeds and insects.  

3 Certification process — becoming an officially certified organic farm is complex, filled with paperwork and regulations that are often difficult to achieve and maintain. 

4 Organic additives — while the fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are safer and not chemically created, they need to be added more frequently, with higher labor costs. 

5 Risk — a knowledge of chemistry and ecology, along with a lack of government subsidies, make organic farming more unpredictable than conventional farming.  

According to a Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems (SAFS) project at University of California-Davis, a 12-year experiment showed that the organic system had a 50% higher water infiltration rate, was more efficient in storing nitrogen, and had less nitrate, chloride, and atrazine in water run off than conventional farms. 

No matter the day-to-day pros and cons of organic farming, it’s undeniably better for the future of our planet. First, it takes much less energy (30-50% less) to maintain an organic farm. According to one British study, organic crops and organic dairying use 35% and 74% less energy respectively than their conventionally-grown counterparts.  

And what we’re all most concerned about--organic farming has the potential to not only reduce carbon dioxide, but also slow down the climate change process by releasing 40% fewer carbon emissions. 

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