If you are just learning about the benefits of organic foods, you may wonder how is or different from conventional farming methods. This article will provide a brief comparison of the two types of farming so you can see for yourself what the best choice is for you as well as for your family.
How is Organic Farming Different from Conventional Farming?
For a farm to be certified organic, it is not permitted to use any synthetic pesticides. The best methods for organic pest control include the use of cover crops, crop rotation, beneficial insects and birds. Here is how these methods help control insects:
- Cover crops: Cover crops help in several ways. One way is by luring damaging insects away from the primary crop. The cover crop is more appealing, therefore there is less crop loss due to insect infestations. Another way cover crops are useful is that they attract beneficial insects. These predators eat the insects that may cause damage to the crops. Other benefits of cover crops are discussed below under the heading Fertilizers.
- Crop rotation: Avoiding the buildup of insects and plant diseases is a major benefit of crop rotation. Similar plants tend to attract the same types of pests. By planting different crops in a field on a schedule, these pests are discouraged.
- Beneficial insects and birds: Birds and insects are predators that are welcomed on organic farms. Their job is to eat insects that destroy crops and cause disease. While there may be a certain degree of crop loss for birds that enjoy the occasional berry, this is far less than the loss caused by an insect infestation that can ruin the fruit and destroy the entire plant as well.
Conventional farms typically spray toxic chemicals on their crops that kill all insects-beneficial or otherwise. These chemicals can be difficult to remove from produce, causing it to be ingested by consumers who buy these products.
Organic weed control is accomplished by physically removing weeds from the fields. Different types of machinery are used to attack weeds while they are still small and easy to remove. While this is a bit more labor-intensive than simply spraying chemicals, the results are chemical free foods for consumers
Cover crops are also useful for organic weed control because they effectively choke out weeds that compete with the primary crops for water and nutrients. Mulch is also a great way to choke out weeds on the organic farm. The added benefit is that mulch helps to retain moisture in the soil.
Flame-weeders are also used to kill weeds while preparing the soil for planting crops. This is a method incorporated by conventional farmers as well. Solarization is an effective weed-control method, since is it used between growing seasons during hot times of the year. Weeds are basically baked under dark tarps so that they are unable to germinate and grow.
Weed control on conventional farms consists of chemical herbicides fungicides and fumigants that destroy unwanted plants. One such chemical, methyl bromide, was commonly used but has been phased out of use in the United States as well as other countries because it is believed to contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer.
Once again, cover crops are beneficial in this area. Essential nutrients are added to the soils where cover crops are planted. Legumes, for example, add nitrogen to the soil and often are planted in the winter to prepare the soil for the following growing season."Green manures" are often planted to improve soil quality and smother out weeds as part of a crop rotation system. Beneficial microorganisms are also increased in the soil, making it healthy and able to support healthy plants.
Manure and compost are both used to add nutrients to the soil. Any type of natural substance that breaks down in the soil and adds nutrients will make it easier to grow productive crops. When used along with crop rotation, crops are less likely to deplete the soil causing weak plants that are prone to disease and insect infestation.
Conventional farmers use a variety of fertilizers as well. One difference, however, is that they often focus on adding plant-specific nutrients instead of focusing on creating healthy soil. This can lead to an imbalance that will increase the need for other chemicals, such as pesticides, later on.
Raising Organic Meat
Organic produce isn't the only thing raised on organic farms. Many people want to know how organic farming is different in relation to how animals are raised for food production.
Generally, livestock raised organically need to live on smaller farms because pasture is required to be available to animals for grazing. A large beef operation, for example, would have a very difficult time providing pasture for several thousand head of cattle. So while individual farms may be smaller, there may be many farms selling their product to larger companies who market it under their name.
Organically raised meat animals also are required to eat organically produced feed. This means that there can be no hormones, antibiotics or animal byproducts added to their feed.
Conventional farms typically stuff animals into feedlots where they never see a blade of grass. They are injected with hormones to make them grow faster and antibiotics to fend off diseases that are common in overcrowded situations. Often these animals are lame and weak due to lack of exercise and proper nutrition.
The feed given to these animals used to commonly contain the remains of deceased animals, thereby forcing naturally vegetarian animals into cannibals. Recently this practice has been discourage due to the emergence of "mad cow" and other diseases. Since no pasture is available to these animals, roughage is often added to their food with plastic pellets, not a very appetizing food additive.
There are many things that answer the question how is organic farming different. This is not to imply that all conventional farmers are bad or use unethical practices. However, it is easy to see how the implementation of organics practices can make farms-as well as our food supply-safer and healthier.