Globally, certified organic is becoming the gold standard in farming. It is slowly becoming the most widespread method for cultivating the land, and it is also one of the most productive and cost-effective.
It’s also probably the most misunderstood method of producing the food we need to survive.
This guide, which contains a wealth of links to more detailed blog posts and reports, has been designed to give you a crash-course in organic farming - enjoy!
What is Organic Farming?
In essence, organic farming is an approach to agriculture that relies solely on natural inputs (for example ecologically-based pest control and plant-based fertilisers). It also emphasises land health, ensuring that the environmental benefits are just as great as the economic ones, by prioritising factors such as soil health and quality.
Put even more simply, it’s an approach to farming that looks to create maximum benefits for everyone and everything involved - the farmers, the customers, the flora and fauna.
BioGro NZ (which is the certifying body we operate under), provides a more detailed view for what is organic, using 8 key principles that all farms must meet each year to retain their organic certification:
Traceability: understanding where all the inputs originate from, and what’s in them.
Animal welfare: maintain the highest level of animal welfare, this means happier and healthier animals. Provide them with plenty of space and a clean diet.
Climate change: work towards a green NZ by working with nature, avoiding synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, and promoting overall environmental health.
Biodiversity: organic farms provide a haven for local wildlife to flourish, in particular local bird populations and bees.
Packaging: packaging must be chosen to minimise environmental impact, such as recycled or reusable packaging.
Care for workers: organic standards will not allow for violation of human rights.
Health and wellbeing: As BioGro themselves state, “organic food is real food. It is not genetically engineered or altered in any way. It is made without synthetic colourings, preservatives or additives.”
Advertising: certified organic producers must get all packaging, labels and marketing materials approved before it is used. Strict rules are in place to ensure transparency and honesty in marketing.
Why Choose Organically-Grown Produce?
Organic farming has grown in popularity in recent years in response to a number of market factors, such as consumers desire to support businesses that are supporting the environment and to help combat climate change.
For a lot of people, the choice to farm organically or buy organic produce is a personal choice. For us, the choice to farm organically was a family decision. We noticed that soil health was declining from traditional methods and we also had a strong desire to leave the land in a better condition than we found it.
What are the Benefits of Organic Farming?
Organic farming is all about protecting the environment - for thousands of years, civilizations worked with the land to sustain and feed themselves. Only in recent decades has society shifted our focus to maximum yields at the expense of environmental health. Our ancestors understood the importance of protecting the land that fed them, and so much of the benefits of organic farming ties back into environmental sustainability and health.
1. It promotes soil health
Organic farming has been shown to help prevent soil erosion. A major study comparing adjoining organic and chemically treated wheat fields showed that the organic field featured eight more inches of topsoil than the chemically treated field and also had only one-third the erosion loss.
2. It fights climate change
Did you know that organic farming can help prevent climate change? It does so by:
Reducing carbon emissions - 77% of Nitrogen Oxide emissions come from agricultural soil management, and since organic farming doesn’t use synthetic fertilisers, our carbon footprint is lower
Storing carbon in the soil - 2700 Gigatons of CO2 equivalent carbon is stored in the soil worldwide. Working with ecology, organic farmers use diverse pastures and regenerative grazing management to create healthy soils. The relationship between plant roots and soil organisms is often minimised but it is critically important in sequestering carbon.
Reducing energy consumption - Chemicals such as fertilisers require large amounts of energy to produce, and while this is directly attributed to the farm, by purchasing these products a farm is indirectly increasing energy consumption. At Jersey Girl Organics, we also try to reduce our carbon emissions footprint and lower our energy output by offering a glass bottle exchange scheme.
3. Keeps harmful chemicals out of our food
Not only does organic farming forbid the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, which keeps these chemicals off your dinner table, organic farmers use native insects to pollinate their crops. The use of agri-chemicals has been blamed for the decline in bee numbers which are essential in most of our food production systems.
4. Promotes water health
In Australia, in the Murray-Darling basin, research shows that organic farms make better use of their water allotment and that they perform best in terms of water productivity.
Similar results have also been found in the US.
5. Promotes ecosystem health as a whole
Organic farming prioritises total ecosystem health - the land, water, air, workers and animals.
Healthy ecosystems with greater biodiversity are more resilient and recover faster from adverse events. Essentially, we rely on healthy ecosystems to survive.
6. Contributes to long-term societal health
The degradation of soil and subsequent collapse of food production has been cited as one of the contributing reasons for the decline of civilisations such as the Greeks, Romans and Mayans.
Since so much of the globe is covered in agricultural land, it’s imperative to the health of society that we emphasise the protection of our environment.
Organic Farming vs Conventional Farming
We can’t talk about organic farming without also discussing ‘conventional’ farming practices.
When we talk about conventional, it’s common for the terms conventional and traditional to be used interchangeably, but this is inaccurate since organic farming was here long before mass production techniques became available. So, in essence, organic farming is traditional farming!
Ok, so now that’s out of the way - what’s the difference between organic and conventional farming?
Organic - relies on nature to fertilise, pollinate and keep pests away
Conventional - relies on synthetic fertilisers and pesticides
Organic - uses a variety of techniques, such as crop rotation and cross-seeding, to promote soil health
Conventional - uses synthetic and chemical fertilisers to keep soilds ‘healthy’
Organic - use seeds saved from last crop
Conventional - common to use genetically modified seeds
Organic - hormone- and steroid-free. Animals also play important role in maintaining whole-farm health and are treated as such
Conventional - common to give them growth hormones to grow faster
Organic - rely or predatory species such as birds and other insects to control local populations
Conventional - rely on synthetic pesticides to control pests
Organic - commonplace to plant multiple crops each season, and perform heavy crop rotation, to protect soil health
Conventional - planting of one type of crop only (referred to as a monoculture) - although this is not typical of every conventional farm.
Making the Switch to Organic
We’ve discussed our journey to become organic in a previous blog, and we know that a lot of our customers - both the end consumer who buys our milk from a fridge, and other businesses such as cafes - who already do some form of farming, are interested in making the switch to organic.
In some cases, it might be a small veggie garden in the backyard; in others it might be a large garden to supplies the fresh produce a cafe uses in their menu. Regardless of why or how you farm, everyone can go organic.
Be warned though, it’s not easy. But anything worth having never comes easy.
We covered how to switch to organic farming in a previous blog, so if you want a more in-depth look we suggest you check it out here.
But for those that want to quick version, here is an 11 step-by-step guide to going organic:
1. Understand your challenges - this relates to things such as the location of your land and farm-specific challenges. For example, if you’re already reliant on synthetic inputs, making the switch will be more difficult.
2. Take the time to learn - you’re about to embark on a journey that will take time. Be sure you’re informed as much as possible beforehand, particularly in areas specific to you, such as how to choose the right fertiliser, or how pests can be controlled naturally.
3. Choose your crops - depending on your individual wants and needs, you’ll have certain crops you want to grow. You’ll need to think about any equipment you might need, and what animals you can bring in to help support these crops.
4. Mulching - Mulching plays a crucial role in preventing soil erosion. By covering the topsoil in natural plant materials, surface runoff can be prevented when it rains. As the material decomposes it boosts the amount of organic matter in the soil, helping create a stable structure. Take the time to learn about the different types and which one will work best for you.
5. Water management - Water management focuses on three principles: water retention, water harvesting, and water storage. When going organic it’s crucial you think about how you can achieve these three goals.
6. Crop planning - In an organic system, planning your crops is much more important to success. Crop rotation (planting different crops in the field from season to season) and intercropping (planting different crops in close proximity to each other) are two methods that will help improve soil health and fertility.
7. Nutrient management - ensuring the nutrients used to grow crops and feed animals are replaced is vital. In conventional farming this would be done with nitrogen-based fertilisers, but organic farming requires a different approach - one you’ll need to study up on.
8. Pest management - Organic farming focuses on prevention rather than cure - it’s about identifying the cause and removing it before it becomes a problem. Take the time to learn what pests may affect your crop, and how you can get ahead of the problem.
9. Weed management - you’ll need to find the right balance between removing foreign weeds, which will hurt your crop, and keeping native ones that may provide protection for predatory species that keep pests at bay.
10. Soil management - There is no one right way to cultivate the soil, but a range of options. When going organic, be sure to learn more about good soil management practices for your specific situation, crops, and location.
11. Animal husbandry - Introducing animals can help crop-producing farms greatly, but it’s not the right option for everyone. If you have have them, however, you should strongly consider it.
Organic Farming is the Future
Organic farming promotes biodiversity, protects the land and those on it, promotes societal health and can even fight climate change.
Organic farming is even the future of food, ensuring we’ll have enough to feed a growing population.
Organic farming is here to stay.