“The organic fertilisers market was valued at $8.3 billion in 2020 and is anticipated to generate $15.9 billion by 2030”.
Organic farming is an agricultural system that uses ecologically based pest controls and biological fertilisers derived specifically from animal and plant wastes and nitrogen-fixing cover crops. Modern organic farming was developed to combat environmental damage caused by using chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilisers in conventional agriculture, which has several ecological benefits.
Unlike traditional agriculture, organic farming uses comparatively fewer pesticides, reduces soil erosion, decreases nitrate leaching into groundwater and surface water, and recycles animal wastes back to the farm. Higher food costs for consumers and low yields balance these benefits. Reportedly, yields of organic crops are found to be about 25% lower than conventionally grown crops. This can vary depending on the type of crop. It would be challenging for organic agriculture to maintain its environmental benefits, enhance yields, and reduce prices while combating the challenges of climate change and an increasing world population.
Organic Farming: History
In the early 1900s, Sir Albert Howard, F.H. King, Rudolf Steiner, and others believed that the use of animal manures, cover crops, crop rotation, and biological pest control measures led to an improved farming system. These notable names coined the concept of organic agriculture. Sir Howard’s practices were carried forward by other advocates namely J.I. Rodale and his son Robert in the 1940s and onward. Later, they published Organic Gardening and Farming magazine and several other texts on organic farming. Salient Spring by Rachel Carson highlighted the demand for organic food in the 1960s which documented the extent of damage insecticides cause to the environment.
However, in the late 20th century, organic food sales boosted steadily. Environmental awareness and other concerns regarding the impacts of pesticide residues and the consumption of genetically modified crops (GMO) on health fostered the growth of the organic sector. Organic food is comparatively more expensive than conventionally grown food, and the price generally depends on the product, the season, and the vagaries of supply and demand.
Organic Farming: Methods
As already discussed, organic farming relies on ecological processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions, as compared to the use of inputs with adverse effects. The primary methods of organic farming include-
- Crop Diversity: Organic farming promotes crop diversity. Agroecology revealed the benefits of polyculture which is used in organic farming. Planting different types of vegetable crops support a wide range of beneficial insects, soil microorganisms, and other factors that promote the overall health of the farm. Crop diversity also helps the environment thrive and protects species from becoming extinct.
- Soil Management: Organic farming depends on the natural breakdown of organic matter compared to the average conventional farm, using techniques like green manure and composting, that replace nutrients taken from the soil by the previous crops. Microorganisms like mycorrhiza and earthworms drive this biological process, releasing nutrients available to plants throughout the growing season. At the same time, farmers use several methods to enhance soil fertility including crop rotation, cover cropping, reduced tillage, and application of compost. Reducing fuel-intensive tillage, less soil organic matter gets lost in the atmosphere. This promotes carbon sequestration which reduces greenhouse gases and helps reverse climate change. Plants also require many nutrients in different quantities to flourish, hence, supplying enough nitrogen is a challenge for organic farmers.
- Weed Management: Organic weed management is beneficial for weed suppression compared to weed elimination as it enhances crop competition and has phytotoxic effects on weeds. To manage weeds, organic farmers can integrate cultural, biological, mechanical, physical, and chemical tactics without using synthetic herbicides. Organic crop rotation also includes weed-suppressive cover crops and crops with dissimilar life cycles to discourage weeds associated with a certain crop.
Organic farms categorise mechanical and physical weed control practices into-
- Tillage: This involves turning the soil between crops to incorporate crop residues and soil amendments, removing existing weed growth, and preparing a seedbed for planning, turning soil after seeding to kill weeds, including cultivation of row crops.
- Mowing and Cutting: Done primarily to remove the growth of weeds.
- Mulching: Involves blocking weed emergence with organic materials, plastic films, or landscape fabric.
- Controlling Other Organisms: Other than weeds, organisms like arthropods, nematodes, fungi, and bacteria cause problems on farms. There are naturally derived insecticides like Bacillus thuringiensis, pyrethrum, Spinosad, neem, and rotenone that are widely preferred. On the other hand, there are other naturally derived pesticides such as nicotine sulphate, arsenic, and strychnine that are not used on organic farms.
- Livestock: Among other traditional farming activity that aids crop growth, raising livestock and poultry is another traditional activity farming in Australia. Organic farms also provide animals with natural living conditions and feed. Earlier, horses and cattle provided labour for hauling and ploughing, fertility, manure recycling, and fuel in the form of food for farmers and other animals. However, today, small growing operations do not include livestock, but domesticated animals are a desirable part of organic farming, especially to maintain sustainability.
- Genetic Modification: One of the key characteristics of organic farming is the exclusion of genetically engineered plants and animals. Even though GMOs are not a part of organic farming, pollen from genetically modified crops is becoming a part of organic and heirloom seed stocks, making it difficult to keep these gemstones from entering the organic food supply.
- Tools: Organic farmers require several traditional farm tools and utilise agricultural machineryto do conventional farming. In the developing world, tools used in organic farms are usually constrained to hand tools and diesel-powered water pumps.
For more information on organic farming in Australia, browse through the KG2 website, Australia’s comprehensive agribusiness database. Referring to our database will enable the farmer and industry to leverage the country’s most comprehensive agribusiness database for mutually beneficial outcomes.