Go Green! Organic Gardening
Organic Gardening, how to keep pesticides and herbicides out of the garden
Organic farming is a form of agriculture that excludes the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulators, livestock feed additives, and genetically modified organisms. As far as possible, organic farmers rely on crop rotation, green manure, compost, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and control pests. Organic farming is often contrasted with conventional chemical farming. Organic agriculture can be considered a subset of sustainable agriculture, the difference being that organic implies certification in accordance with legal standards. Organic methods are studied in the field of agroecology.Since 1990 the market for organic products has grown at a rapid pace, averaging 20-25 percent per year, and this has driven a similar increase in organically managed farmland. Approximately 306,000 square kilometres (30.6 million hectares) worldwide are now farmed organically. In addition, as of 2005 organic wild products are farmed on approximately 62 million hectares (IFOAM 2007:10).
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, an international umbrella organization for organic organizations established in 1972. The overarching goal of organic farming is defined as follows:
"The role of organic agriculture, whether in farming, processing, distribution, or consumption, is to sustain and enhance the health of ecosystems and organisms from the smallest in the soil to human beings."[top]
DistributionAs of 2007 organic farmland is distributed across the globe, but the markets are strongest in North America and Europe, which as of 2001 are estimated to have $6 and $8 billion respectively of the $20 billion market (2003:6). Australasia has 39% of the total organic farmland with Australia's 11.8 million hectares, but 97 percent of this land is sprawling rangeland (2007:35), which results in total sales of approximately 5% of US sales (2003:7). Europe has 23 percent of total organic farmland (6.9 million hectares), followed by Latin America with 19 percent (5.8 million hectares). Asia has 9.5 percent while North America has 7.2 percent. Africa has a mere 3 percent.
Besides Australia, the countries with the most organic area Argentina (3.1 million hectares), China (2.3 million hectares), and the United States (1.6 million hectares). Much of Argentina's organic farmland is pasture, like Australia (2007:42). Italy, Spain, Germany, Brazil, Uruguay, and the UK follow the United States by the amount of land managed organically (2007:26).[top]
GrowthAs of 2001, the estimated total market value of certified organic products was estimated to be $20 billion. By 2002 this was $23 billion and by 2005 $33 billion, with Organic Monitor projecting sales of $40 billion in 2006 (IFOAM 2007:11). The change from 2001 to 2005 represents a compound growth of 10.6 percent.
In recent years both Europe and North America have experienced strong growth in organic farmland. Each added half a million hectares from 2004 to 2007 -- for the US this is a 29 percent change (IFOAM 2007:11,27). However, this growth has occurred under different conditions. While the European Union has shifted agricultural subsidies to organic farmers in recognition of its environmental benefits, the United States has taken a free market approach. As a result, as of 2001 3 percent of European farmland was organically managed compared to just .3 percent of United States farmland (Lotter 2003:7). By 2005 Europe's organic land was 3.9 percent while the United States' had risen to 0.6 percent (IFOAM 2007:14-15).
IFOAM's The World of Organic Agriculture: Statistics and Emerging Trends 2007 lists the countries which added the most hectares and had the highest percentage growth in 2007 (IFOAM 2007:27-28). Among these, China is listed third in adding the most hectares behind the United States and Argentina. China jumped from approximately 300,000 hectares of organic land in 2005 to approximately 3.5 million hectares in 2006 -- an increase of over a thousand percent. This rise can be attributed to the certification of China's Organic Food Development Center in 2002 by IFOAM. The end of 2005 marks the end of the three-year transition period begun in 2002.[top]
HistoryThe 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, then nitrates, and nitrites mass-produced using the Haber-Bosch ammonia process during World War I. These early fertilizers were cheap, powerful, and easy to transport in bulk.
Sir Albert Howard is widely considered to be the father of organic farming. Rudolf Steiner, a German philosopher, made influential strides in the earliest organic theory with his biodynamic agriculture. More work was done by J.I. Rodale in the United States, Lady Eve Balfour in the United Kingdom, and many others across the world.
As a percentage of total agricultural output, organic farming has remained tiny since its beginning, but it began to see renewed interest in the 1980s in response to increased environmental awareness. Farmers supplying organic products found their goods to be in high demand. Standardized certification, premium prices, and in some cases government subsidies have since attracted many farmers into converting. In the developing world, many farmers farm according to traditional methods but are not certified. In other cases, farmers in the developing world have converted out of necessity. As a proportion of total global agricultural output, organic output remains small, but it has been growing rapidly in many countries, notably in Europe.[top]
Methods"An organic farm, properly speaking, is not one that uses certain methods and substances and avoids others; it is a farm whose structure is formed in imitation of the structure of a natural system that has the integrity, the independence and the benign dependence of an organism" Wendell Berry, "The Gift of Good Land"
The term holistic is often used to describe organic farming , Enhancing soil health is the cornerstone of organic farming. A variety of methods are employed, including crop rotation, green manure, cover cropping, application of compost, and mulching. Organic farmers also use certain processed fertilizers such as seed meal, and various mineral powders such as rock phosphate and greensand, a naturally occurring form of potash. These methods help to control erosion, promote biodiversity, and enhance the health of the soil.
Pest control targets animal pests (including insects), fungi, weeds and disease. Organic pest control involves the cumulative effect of many techniques, including, allowing for an acceptable level of pest damage, encouraging or even introducing beneficial organisms, careful crop selection and crop rotation, and mechanical controls such as row covers and traps. These techniques generally provide benefits in addition to pest control—soil protection and improvement, fertilization, pollination, water conservation, season extension, etc.and these benefits are both complementary and cumulative in overall effect on farm health . Effective organic pest control requires a thorough understanding of pest life cycles and interactions.
Weeds are controlled mechanically, thermically and through the use of covercrops and mulches.[top]
StandardsOrganic farming is distinguished by formal standards regulating production methods, and in some cases, final output. Standards may be voluntary or legislated. As early as the 1970s, private associations created standards, against which organic producers could voluntarily have themselves certified. In the 1980s, governments began to produce organic production guidelines. Beginning in the 1990s, a trend toward legislation of standards began, most notably the EU-Eco-regulation developed in the European Union. As of 2007 over 60 countries have regulations on organic farming (IFOAM 2007:11).
In 1991, the European Commission formulated the first government system to regulate organic labeling. setting the rules for 12 countries. Organic certification became mandatory and was also required for organic imports. The mandatory certification solidified consumer trust in organic products.
The international framework for organic farming is provided by IFOAM. For IFOAM members, organic agriculture is based upon the Principles of Organic Agriculture and the IFOAM Norms. The IFOAM Norms consist of the IFOAM Basic Standards and IFOAM Accreditation Criteria.
The IFOAM Basic Standards are a set of "standards for standards." They are established through a democratic and international process and reflect the current state of the art for organic production and processing. They are best seen as a work in progress to lead the continued development of organic practices worldwide. They provide a framework for national and regional standard-setting and certification bodies to develop detailed certification standards that are responsive to local conditions.
Legislated standards are established at the national level, and vary from country to country. In recent years, many countries have legislated organic production, including the EU nations (1990s), Japan (2001), and the US (2002). Non-governmental national and international associations also have their own production standards. In countries where production is regulated, these agencies must be accredited by the government.
Since 1993 when EU Council Regulation 2092/91 became effective, organic food production has been strictly regulated in the UK.
In India, standards for organic agriculture were announced in May 2001, and the National Programme on Organic Production (NPOP) is administered under the Ministry of Commerce.
In 2002, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) established production standards, under the National Organic Program (NOP), which regulate the commercial use of the term organic. Farmers and food processors must comply with the NOP in order to use the word.[top]
CompostingUnder USDA organic standards, manure must be composted and allowed to reach a sterilizing temperature. If raw animal manure is used, 120 days must pass before the crop is harvested.[top]
EconomicsThe economics of organic farming, a subfield of agricultural economics, encompasses the entire process and effects of organic farming in terms of human society, including social costs, opportunity costs, unintended consequences, information asymmetries, and economies of scale. Although the scope of economics is broad, agricultural economics tends to focus on maximizing yields and efficiency at the farm level. Mainstream economics takes an anthropocentric approach to the value of the natural world: biodiversity, for example, is considered beneficial only to the extent that people value it. Some governments such as the European Union subsidize organic farming, in large part because these countries believe in the external benefits of reduced water use, reduced water contamination by pesticides and nutrients of organic farming, reduced soil erosion, reduced carbon emissions, increased biodiversity, and assorted other benefits.
Organic farming is labor and knowledge-intensive whereas conventional farming is capital-intensive, requiring more energy and manufactured inputs. Organic farmers in California have cited marketing as their greatest obstacle.[top]
Productivity and ProfitabilityCurrently studies suggest that converted organic farms have lower yields than their conventional counterparts in developed countries but equal or greater yields in developing countries. While organic farms have lower yields, organic methods require no synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. The decreased cost on those inputs, along with the premiums which consumers pay for organic produce, create comparable profits for organic farmers. In a 1990 review of 205 crop comparisons Stanhill found that organic crops had 91% of conventional yields. In a comprehensive review of all organic literature agroecologist Don Lotter reports that organic farms yield on average 10-15% less than conventional farms, but the lower yields are balanced by lower input costs (fertilizer, pesticides) and higher profit margins. Organic farms have been consistently found to be as or more profitable than conventional farms with premiums included, but without premiums profitability is mixed (Lotter 2003:11). Welsh (1999) reports that organic farmers are more profitable in the drier states, likely due to their superior drought performance.
Lotter (2003:10) reports that repeated studies and observations have found that organic farms withstand severe weather conditions better than conventional farms, sometimes yielding 70-90% more than conventional farms during droughts. A 22-year farm trial study by Cornell University published in 2005 concluded that organic farming produces the same corn and soybean yields as conventional methods over the long-term averages, but consumed less energy and used zero pesticides. The results were attributed to lower yields in general but higher yields during drought years. A study of 1,804 organic farms in Central American hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 found that the organic farms sustained the damage much better, retaining 20 to 40% more topsoil and smaller economic losses at highly significant levels than their neighbors.
On the other hand, a prominent 21-year Swiss study found an average of 20% lower organic yields over conventional, along with 50% lower expenditure on fertilizer and energy, and 97% less pesticides. A major US survey published in 2001, analyzed results from 150 growing seasons for various crops and concluded that organic yields were 95-100% of conventional yields. A long-term study by U.S Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists concluded that organic farming can build up soil organic matter better than conventional no-till farming, which suggests long-term yield benefits from organic farming.
Organic methods often require more labor, providing rural jobs but increasing costs to urban consumers.
Agriculture in general imposes external costs upon society through pesticides, nutrient runoff, excessive water usage, and assorted other problems. As organic methods minimize some of these factors, organic farming is believed to impose fewer external costs upon society.[top]
Organic farms use few pesticides although they are allowed to use some natural ones. The main three are Bt, pyrethrum and rotenone. However, 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 (Lotter 2003:26). Nevertheless, rotenone has been linked to Parkinson's in rats and can be considered toxic to humans (Lotter 2003:26).
On the other hand, conventional farming uses large quantities of pesticides through techniques such as crop dusting. Studies have shown that people who work with pesticides have an increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease. The pesticides examined in these two long-term studies, paraquat and dieldrin, are not allowed on organic farms. The herbicide paraquat and fungicide maneb together, but not alone, have been shown to cause brain damage in mice.
Around 31,000 tonnes of pesticides are used in the UK every year, and 40% of fruit, vegetables, and bread sampled in the UK were found to have pesticide residues in 2004.[top]
Children's healthSome parents are concerned about the potential neurological health risks posed to children by trace pesticide residues in food. A 2001 study demonstrated that children fed organic diets experienced significantly lower organophosphorus pesticide exposure than children fed conventional diets. A similar study in 2006 measured the levels of organophosphorus pesticide exposure in 23 preschool children before and after replacing their diet with organic food: levels of organophosphorus pesticide exposure dropped dramatically and immediately when the children switched to an organic diet. Although the researchers did not collect health outcome data in this study, they concluded "it is intuitive to assume that children whose diets consist of organic food items would have a lower probability of neurologic health risks."[top]
RunoffPesticide 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".[top]
Genetically modified organismsA key characteristic of organic farming is rejection of genetically engineered products, including plants and animals. On October 19, 1998, participants at IFOAM's 12th Scientific Conference of IFOAM) issued the Mar del Plata Declaration, where more than 600 delegates from over 60 countries voted unanimously to exclude the use of genetically modified organisms in food production and agriculture. From this point, it became widely recognized that GMOs are categorically excluded from organic farming.
Despite this vehement opposition to use of any transgenic technologies in organic farming, agricultural researchers such as Luis Herrera-Estrella & Ariel Alvarez-Morales continue to advocate integration of transgenic technologies into organic farming as the optimal means to sustainable agriculture, particularly in the developing world.
Although GMOs are excluded from use in organic farming, there is concern that the pollen from genetically modified crops is increasingly contaminating organic and heirloom genetics making it difficult, if not impossible, to keep these genetics from entering the organic food supply. International trade restrictions limit the availability GMOs to certain countries.
The actual dangers that genetic modification could pose to the environment or, supposedly, individual health, are hotly contended. [top]
Food qualityHealthy soils equals healthy food equals healthy people is a basic tenet of many organic farming systems.
There is extensive scientific research being carried out in Switzerland at over 200 farms to determine differences in the quality of organic food products compared to conventional in addition to other tests. The FiBL scientific research institute states that "organic products stand out as having higher levels of secondary plant compounds and vitamin C. In the case of milk and meat, the fatty acid profile is often better from a nutritional point of view. As far as carbohydrates and minerals, organic products are no different from conventional products. However, in regard to undesirables such as nitrate and pesticide residues, organic products have a clear advantage. A recent study found that organically grown produce has double the flavonoids, an important antioxidant. A 2007 study found that organically grown kiwi fruits had more antioxidants than conventional kiwi.
A study which isolated clear health benefits from eating organic foods was published in 2007.[top]
Soil conservationIn Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, geomorphologist David Montgomery outlines a coming crisis from soil erosion. Agriculture relies on roughly one meter of topsoil, and that is being depleted ten times faster than it is being replaced. No-till farming, which some claim depends upon pesticides, is regarded as one way to minimize erosion. However, a recent study by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service has found that organic farming is even better at building up the soil than no-till. Nutrient Leaching
Excess nutrients in lakes, rivers, and groundwater can cause algal blooms, eutrophication, and subsequent dead zones. In addition, nitrates are harmful to aquatic organisms by themselves. The main contributor to this pollution is nitrate fertilizers whose use is expected to "double or almost triple by 2050". Researchers at the United States National Academy of Sciences found that that organically fertilizing fields "significantly [reduces] harmful nitrate leaching" over conventionally fertilized fields: "annual nitrate leaching was 4.4-5.6 times higher in conventional plots than organic plots".
Scientists believe that the large dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is caused in large part by agricultural pollution: a combination of fertilizer runoff and livestock manure runoff. A study by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) found that over half of the nitrogen released into the Gulf comes from agriculture. The economic cost of this for fishermen may be large, as they must travel far from the coast to find fish.
At the 2000 IFOAM Conference, researchers presented a study of nitrogen leaching into the Danube River. They found that nitrogen runoff was substantially lower among organic farms and suggested that the external cost could be internalized by charging 1 euro per kg of nitrogen released.
A 2005 study published in Nature found a strong link between agricultural runoff and algae blooms in California.[top]
Sales and MarketingOrganic farming begins with the farming itself, but farmers must also market and sell their products. Organic business has an hierarchical structure: the foundation of production must be linked to consumers through distribution and marketing. The composition of this organic production and market varies largely from country to country and from product to product, dependent upon variables such as climate, local attitudes, consumer demand, and government support. In some areas, such as the United States, the production of organic foods may be small relative to the size of the organic market because of high imports. Other areas, like the European Union, may be more balanced.[top]
DistributorsIn the United States, 75% of organic farms are smaller than 2.5 hectares and in California 2% of the farms account for over half of the sales (Lotter 2003:4). Groups of small farms join together in cooperatives such as Organic Valley, Inc. to market their goods more effectively.
Over the past twenty years, however, these cooperative distributors have merged or been bought out. Rural sociologist Philip H. Howard has researched the structure and transformation of the organic industry in the United States. He claims that in 1982 there were 28 consumer cooperative distributors but as of 2007 there are only 3. His research shows that most of these small cooperatives have been absorbed into large multinational corporations such as General Mills, Heinz, ConAgra, Kellog, and assorted other brands. This consolidation has raised concerns among consumers and journalists of potential fraud and degradation in standards.[top]
Farmers' MarketsPrice premiums are important for the profitability of small organic farmers, and so many sell directly to consumers in farmers' markets. In the United States the number of farmers' markets has grown from 1,755 in 1994 to 4,385 in 2006.[top]
Capacity buildingOrganic agriculture can contribute to meaningful socio-economic and ecologically sustainable development, especially in poorer countries. On one hand, this is due to the application of organic principles, which means efficient management of local resources (e.g. local seed varieties, manure, etc.) and therefore cost-effectiveness. On the other hand, the market for organic products at local and international level has tremendous growth prospects and offers creative producers and exporters in the South excellent opportunities to improve their income and living conditions.
Organic Agriculture is a very knowledge intensive production system. Therefore capacity building efforts play a central role in this regard. There are many efforts all around the world regarding the development of training material and the organization of training courses related to Organic Agriculture. Big parts of existing knowledge is still scattered and not easy accessible. Especially in Developing Countries this situation remains an important constraint for the growth of the organic sector.
For that reason, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements created an Internet Training Platform whose objective is to become the global reference point for Organic Agriculture training through free access to high quality training materials and training programs on Organic Agriculture. In November 2007, the Training Platform hosted more than 170 free manuals and 75 training opportunities.[top]
Organic farming vs. conventional practicesIn ancient farming practices, farmers did not possess the technology or manpower to have a significant impact on the destruction of biodiversity even as mass-production agriculture was rising. Nowadays, common farming methods generally rely on pesticides to maintain high yields. With such, most agricultural landscapes favor mono-culture crops with very little flora or fauna co-existence (van Elsen 2000). Modern organic farm practices such as the removal of pesticides and the inclusion of animal manure, crop rotation, and multi-cultural crops provides the chance for biodiversity to thrive.[top]
How organic farming benefits biodiversityNearly all non-crop, naturally-occurring species observed in comparative farm land practice studies show a preference in organic farming both by population and richness. Spanning all associated species, there is an average of 30% more on organic farms versus conventional farming methods. Organic crops use little or no herbicides and pesticides and thus biodiversity fitness and population density benefit. While usually viewed as negative to farmers, organic farm land typically possesses more natural vegetation because of little to no herbicide use. This natural flora provides nourishment to biodiversity associated with agricultural landscapes, which is often the primary factor for species preference for organic farm systems. Many weed species attract beneficial insects that improve soil qualities and forage on weed pests. Soil-bound organisms often benefit because of increased bacteria populations due to natural fertilizer spread such as manure, while experiencing reduced intake of herbicides and pesticides commonly associated with conventional farming methods.[top]
Detriments to biodiversity through organic farmingOrganic farming practices still require active participation from the farmer to effectively boost biodiversity. Making a switch to organic farming methods does not automatically or guarantee improved biodiversity. Pro-conservation ethics are required to create arable farm land that generates biodiversity. Conservationist ideals are commonly overlooked because they require additional physical and economical efforts from the producer. Common weed-removal processes like undercutting and controlled burning provides little opportunity for species survival, and often leads to comparable populations and richness to conventionally-managed landscapes when performed in excess. Another common process is the addition of biotopes in the form of hedgerows and ponds to further improve species richness. Farmers commonly make the mistake of over-using these resources for more intense crop production because organic yields are typically lower. Another error comes from the over-stratification of biotopes. A series of small clusters does not provide adequate land area for high biodiversity potential.[top]
Impact of increased biodiversityThe level of biodiversity that can be yielded from organic farming provides a natural capital to humans. Species found in most organic farms provides a means of agricultural sustainability by reducing amount of human input (e.g. fertilizers, pesticides)  . Farmers that produce with organic methods reduce risk of poor yields by promoting biodiversity. Common game birds such as the ring-necked pheasant and the northern bobwhite often reside in agriculture landscapes, and are a natural capital yielded from high demands of recreational hunting. Because bird species richness and population are typically higher on organic farm systems, promoting biodiversity can be seen as logical and economical.[top]
Highly-impacted animal speciesBirds
Organic farms are said to be beneficial to birds while remaining economical. Bird species are one of the most prominent animal groups that benefit from organic farming methods. Many species rely on farmland for foraging, feeding, and migration phases. With such, bird populations often relate directly to the natural quality of farmland. The more natural diversity of organic farms provides better habitats to bird species, and is especially beneficial when the farmland is located within a migration zone. In 5 recent studies almost all bird species including locally declining species, both population and variation increased on organic farmland. Making a switch from conventional farming methods to organic practices also seems to directly improve bird species in the area. While organic farming improves bird populations and diversity, species populations receive the largest boost when organic groups are varied within a landscape.
A specific study done in the UK in 2006 found substantially more butterflies on organic farms versus standard farming methods except for two pest species. The study also observed higher populations in uncropped field margins compared with cropland edges regardless of farm practice. Conversely, Weibull et al. (2000) found no significant differences in species diversity or population.
Ten studies have been conducted involving spider species and abundance on farm systems. All but three of the studies indicated that there was a higher diversity of spider species on organic farms, in addition to populations of species. Two of the studies indicated higher species diversity, but statistically insignificant populations between organic and standard farming methods.
Out of 13 studies comparing bacteria and fungus communities between organic and standard farming, 8 of the studies showed heightened level of growth on organic farm systems. One study concluded that the use of 'green' fertilizers and manures was the primary cause of higher bacterial levels on organic farms. On the other hand, nematode population/diversity depended on what their primary food intake was. Bacteria-feeding nematodes showed preference towards organic systems whereas fungus-feeding nematodes showed preference for standard farm systems. The heightened level of bacteria-feeding nematodes makes sense due to higher levels of bacteria in organic soils, but the fungus-feeding populations being higher on standard farms seems to contradict the data since more fungi are generally found on organic farms.
According to Hole et al. (2005), beetle species are among the most commonly studied animal species on farming systems. Twelve studies have found a higher population and species richness of carabids on organic systems. The overall conclusion of significantly higher carabid population species and diversity is that organic farms have a higher level of weed species where they can thrive. Staphylinid populations and diversity have seemed to show no specific preference with some studies showing higher population and diversity, some with lower population and diversity, and one study showed no statistical significance between the organic and conventional farming systems.
Earthworm population and diversity appears to have the most significant data out of all studies. Out of six studies comparing earthworm biodiversity to organic and conventional farming methods, all six suggested a preference for organic practices. Hole et al 2005 summarized a study conducted by Brown (1999) and found nearly double the population and diversity when comparing farming methods. Another study concluded that earthworms showed preference in organic farms did not necessarily show preference for hedgerow habitats.
Two comparative studies have been conducted involving mammal populations and diversity among farm practices. A study done by Brown (1999) found that small mammal population density and diversity did not depend on farming practices, however overall activity was higher on organic farms. It was concluded that more food resources were available to small mammals on organic farms because of the reduction or lack of herbicides and pesticides. Another study conducted by Wickramasinghe et al (2003) compared bat species and activity. Species activity and foraging were both more than double on organic farms compared to conventional farms. Species richness was also higher on organic farms, and 2 of the sixteen species sighted were found only on organic farms.[top]
Approximately ten studies have been conducted to compare non-crop vegetation between organic and conventional farming practices. Hedgerow, inner-crop and grassland observations were made within these studies and all but one showed a higher weed preference and diversity in or around organic farms. Most of these studies showed significant overall preference for organic farming preferences especially for broad-leafed species, but many grass species showed far less differentiation. It was concluded that broad-leafed species showed far less tolerance to herbicides applied to most conventional farms. Both organic and conventional farms had higher population and richness on farm edges than they did in the middle of croplands. In addition, the weed existence was more obvious on conventional farms likely because pesticide interaction was low or non-existent. Organic farm weed population and richness was believed to be lower in mid-crop land because of weed-removal methods such as under sowing . Switching from conventional to organic farming often results in a “boom” of weed speciation due to intense chemical change of soil composition from the lack of herbicides and pesticides. Natural plant species can also vary on organic farms from year-to-year because crop rotation creates new competition based on the chemical needs of each crop.[top]
Farmers’ Benefits from Increased BiodiversityBiological research on soil and soil organisms has proven beneficial to the system of organic farming. Varieties of bacteria and fungi break down chemicals, plant matter and animal waste into productive soil nutrients. In turn, the producer benefits by healthier yields and more arable soil for future crops  Furthermore, a 21-year study was conducted testing the effects of organic soil matter and its relationship to soil quality and yield. Controls included actively managed soil with varying levels of manure, compared to a plot with no manure input. After the study commenced, there was significantly lower yields on the on the control plot when compared to the fields with manure. The concluded reason was an increased soil microbe community in the manure fields, providing a healthier, more arable soil system.[top]
FutureIn Deborah Koons Garcia's film The Future of Food, it is stated that the American market for organically grown food amounted to $1 billion in 1994, and $13 billion in 2003. A growing consumer market is naturally one of the main factors encouraging farmers to convert to organic agricultural production. Increased consumer awareness of food safety issues and environmental concerns has contributed to the growth in organic farming over the last few years. From a consumer perspective, studies have shown a positive attitude towards organic farming. Increased health and ethical concerns have shown that consumers support organic farming and are even willing to pay the premiums associated with it. The scientific community regularly argues the benefit when the agricultural future has been considered. Many believe that organic practices simply cannot withstand the rigors of growing agricultural demand, especially when one considers that agricultural scientists typically develop the farming machinery and methods most commonly used today. Some argue, however, that full research in sustainable organic farming has not been considered and can still be the farming practice for the future.
Many organic farmers believe that while organic farming is increasing world-wide, there are many negative influences that are hindering faster growth. Agricultural scientists often deny the profitability and ecologically friendly aspects of organic farming. Some believe that conventional-method farmers and many developing countries are afraid to give organic farming a chance because of the potential financial risk and negative attitudes from science. The proponents of organic farming believe that increased participation and knowledge could help remove negative viewpoints.
Some agricultural professionals have claimed economic and professional respectability since making the switch to organic farming. They argue that far too much time and money must be invested into a system that producers lower yields to begin with.
The future of organic farming will gain its highest potential by support and development from the organic community. With a relatively low amount of support from the scientific community, it is believed that a majority of advancement will come from education and experimentation from the organic community. Through heightened support and development of organic farms, some believe that many negative stereotypes will be purged.
From a consumer standpoint, the future of organic farming looks to be bright. Studies have shown that consumers will buy organic produce for health and ethical reasons, and will pay the premium costs associated with it. From a producer standpoint, attitudes towards organic are often two-sided. An organic farmer must be willing to pay additional time and costs to raise an organic farm, especially if they are determined to improve biodiversity. However, many see the additional time and cost as illogical because it involves personal well-being, particularly in poor and developing countries.[top]
ControversyThere are contentions that organic farming is unsustainable. One study from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency found that, area-for-area, organic farms of potatoes, sugar beet and seed grass produce as little as half the output of conventional farming. Findings like these, and the dependence of organic food on manure from low-yield cattle, has prompted criticism from many scientists that organic farming is environmentally unsound and incapable of feeding the world population. Among these critics are Norman Borlaug, father of the "green revolution," and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who asserts that organic farming practices can at most feed 4 billion people, after expanding cropland dramatically and destroying ecosystems in the process. Yet, organic agriculture can reduce the level of negative externalities from (conventional) agriculture. Whether this is seen as private or public benefits depends upon the initial specification of property rights.
However, a scientifically based study provided evidence that homogeneous-chemical-input-based farming (aka "conventional farming") is only about as productive as other practices on a globally averaged basis, and probably significantly less productive in less-developed areas.
In 1998, Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute falsely 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."
In the UK, some of the debate has been summarized in an exchange between Prof A. Trewavas and Lord P. Melchett, and published by a major supermarket, concerned about examining the issues. Amongst many others, Trewavas contests the notion that organic agricultural systems are more friendly to the environment and more sustainable than high-yielding farming systems; furthermore, practices such as the use of copper fungicides may do greater long-term damage than their synthetic equivalents for crop-disease control.[top]