What is organic farming? Organic farming can be described as an approach to agriculture where the main aims are to create holistic, nutritional, humane, environmentally and economically sustainable agricultural production systems. Maximum reliance is placed on farm renewable resources and the management of self regulating biological systems and interactions in order to provide exceptional levels of crop, livestock and human nutrition. Protection from pests/diseases, and an acceptable return to the human and other resources employed. Reliance on external inputs whether from chemical or organic is reduced as much as possible. In many European nations, organic agriculture is known as ecological agriculture. This reflects this reliance on ecosystem management rather than external inputs.
The objective of sustainability lies at the heart of organic farming. It is one of the major factors determining the acceptability or otherwise of specific production practices. The term ‘sustainable’ is used in its general sense to encompass not just conservation of non-renewable resources(soil, water, energy, minerals) but also issues of environmental, social and economic sustainability. The term ‘organic’ is best described as referring to the concept of the farm as an whole organism in which all the component parts – the soil minerals, insects, organic matter, microorganisms, plants, animals and man interact to create a workable and stable whole.
The key characteristics of organic farming are:
- Protecting the long term fertility of soils by increasing organic matter levels, encouraging soil microbe activity.
- Providing crop nutrients indirectly using relatively insoluble(natural) nutrient sources which are made available to the plant by soil microorganisms.
- Nitrogen is provided through the use of legumes and biological nitrogen fixation. I is also provided by recycling of organic materials incorporating crop residues and livestock manure.
- Weed, disease and pest control relying primarily on crop rotations, organic manuring, plant health, natural predators, bio-diversity, resistant varieties(conventional plant breeding) and only natural biological and chemical intervention.
- The management of livestock involved considering behavioural needs and animal welfare issues with respect to health, nutrition, housing, breeding and rearing.
- Careful attention to the impact of the farming system on the larger environment and the conservation of native wildlife and natural habitats also need to be considered.