Appealing to consumers and producers alike, organic farming has slowly but surely gained traction, especially in the last decades. Of course, aside from the ethical reasons that warrant the adoption of organic agriculture, researchers have repeatedly shown that there are multiple advantages of organic farming that we should consider.
Research institutes such as the Rodale Institute have shown that today’s farming practices (conventional agriculture that relies on strong, chemical fertilizers and pesticides) are fundamentally flawed and that their productivity and sustainability are outmatched by organic agriculture. So let’s look at some of the foremost advantages of organic farming and whether there truly is a way to feed the world in a way that is caring, sustainable and ethical.
Understanding Organic Farming
Agriculture has been one of humanity’s main occupations, and it is only after the massive migration of the population towards urban centers that this reality changed. Back in the 1930’s, approximately 45% of the American population lived on farms. Nowadays, only 1% of the US population declares farming as a principal occupation. This is one of the reasons why we’ve become so disconnected from the realities of food production, especially since the US population has doubled within the same time frame.
Agriculture has to feed millions and millions of people, yet we lack the resources to achieve this goal. Farming has indeed advanced technologically, with machines becoming increasingly efficient and productive. Simultaneously, our soil has become depleted of nutrients as a result of our farmland’s dependence on chemical fertilizers.
Organic agriculture comes as a solution to all this. As opposed to conventional agriculture practices, organic farming is a form of agriculture that cares and respects the natural balance of the ecosystem it exists in. It relies on crop rotation, compost, green manure and biological pest control as farming practices and its products are natural in the sense that they’ve not come in contact with chemical fertilizers, pesticides or irradiation at any stage in their production, shipping or packaging process.
Advantages of Organic Farming as Opposed to Conventional Agriculture
Conventional wisdom says that large-scale food producers are still outperforming organic farms, but the reality is different. Organic farming has a multitude of benefits, both environmental, economic and health-related. Here are some of these benefits:
1. Organic farming supports local economies
Large-scale producers aim to maximize their output by automating any and all possible steps in the planting, caring and harvesting stages of production. They’ve basically replaced human labor with machines and chemical inputs. However, sustainable farming and organic agriculture support the idea of human labor, and they create real jobs for hard-working individuals.
2. It’s the environmentally-aware alternative
Experts claim that a shift towards organic agriculture and production would significantly reduce the amounts of pesticides and chemicals that harm our environment. According to a report by the Organic Trade Association, over 500 million pounds of pesticides would no longer enter the environment every year were every farmer in the US to convert to organic agriculture.
3. Sustainable agriculture prevents soil depletion and erosion
Healthy soil is paramount for healthy crops, and while conventional agriculture has found a solution to this issue (by using fertilizers to artificially add those nutrients to the soil that plants need most), this solution is short-lived. Harmful fertilizers and pesticides enter the soil and cause significant nutrient depletion. Choosing organic will help prevent this, as well as reduce toxic loads and prevent chemicals from being released into the soil, air and water.
4. Better nutrition
Researchers have shown time and time again that organically produced food is more nutritious and lacks the toxic residues associated with conventionally produced foods. Antioxidants, polyphenols, essential flavonoids are just some of the key nutrients that are found in higher concentrations in organically grown food.
5. Prevent pesticide contamination
Though the amounts of pesticides and chemical residues found in our food are strictly regulated, documents such as the Food Quality Protection Act still allow for certain concentrations of pesticides to be contained in the foods we eat. But being allowed doesn’t mean that they no longer pose a health risk. Organic foods eliminate the threat of pesticide poisoning altogether.
6. It’s about profits, and organic farms outperform conventional ones
Though conventional agriculture would have you believe differently, several studies have concluded that organic farms are more profitable than their conventional counterparts. Within the Rodale study, a 30-year-long side-by-side examination was conducted, and the conclusion was that an organic system is three times more profitable than a conventional one. The study took the average net return into account, which was $558/acre/year as opposed to $190/acre/year in the case of conventional farms.
A study conducted by the University of Minnesota (though over a shorter period, of over 14 years), showed similar results. Farmers cultivating GM crops earned significantly less money as opposed to their non-GM crop-growing counterparts.
7. Ecological benefits
Organic farming is based on a principle of care and respect for the environment and, as such, farmers strive not to threaten the natural habitats in which their farms reside.
8. Organically grown produce and biodiversity
An organic farm is a thriving, densely populated, diverse habitat, in part because of the lack of chemicals that can harm beneficial populations (such as ladybugs and bees). In fact, organic farms are abundant in insect, animal and bird activity, which, in turn, helps maintain the balance.
9. Organic yields exceed conventional ones
One of the main fears when it comes to organic produce is insufficient yields. But research has shown that that is not the case. Green manure, leguminous cover crops and crop rotation techniques are efficient at supplying farm soil with the nitrogen that it needs. Pretty et al. shows that, in 57 different countries, agricultural productivity increased by 79% when adopting ecological agriculture (source).
10. Crop resilience
Another misconception is the idea that pesticides alone can prevent insect-based crop loss. Curiously, though, organic crops have proven that they are more resilient not only to insects, but also drought.
11. Efficiency in organic vs. conventional farming
One has to account for the hidden costs of agriculture, such as the amounts of oil required to produce fertilizers, to transport and apply them. So when eliminating chemical fertilizers and pesticides from the equation, organic systems immediately become more energy efficient as opposed to their conventional counterparts. That also means that organic agriculture reduces greenhouse gas emissions (research shows that conventional farms produce an average of 40% more greenhouse gasses per pound of crop than their organic counterparts).
Cost efficiency should also be regarded when discussing fertilizers, and organic fertilizers don’t necessarily need to be bought. It’s affordable and convenient to make your own organic fertilizer (and organic farmers are extremely efficient at recycling and using all the materials at their disposal).
12. Organic farming promotes fauna and flora health
From discouraging algae blooms (which have adverse effects on the health of marine organisms and animals) to supporting the health of insects, birds, fish and other animals, organic farming is the better alternative. It prevents animals from being exposed to harmful animals (in fact, it also prevents your loved ones and friends from being exposed as well).
The list could continue since it’s nigh-impossible to exhaust all the ways in which organic agriculture benefits mankind and the planet alike. Hopefully, in time, these arguments will sway even the most adamant of conventional agriculture supporters. Until then, we can only do our part.