Organic Farming WorksOrganic Systems Are The Future Of Life On The Planet
Organic farmers know how to work with the soil, the sun, and plants to manage fertility, pests, and disease through soil health and biological diversity. This is security. It is our resiliency and redemption.This soil is ancient. The mineral parent rock once sat naked. Time and water, sun and cold broke the rock into stones, the stones into dust. For a very long time the earth sat aging, then the life process started, and living soil was created. Thousands of years of plants have left their condensed energy and captured time stored in the organic matter. Farming it in present time is a relationship with the past. Excerpt Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works. © 2012 Atina Diffley
So simple and freeing, yet as a human society we have malformed this basic life process into a vulnerable and centralized system, a convoluted industrial process completely dependent on fossil fuel-based inputs, bound by patents on life forms, and controlled by corporate domination.What was it like for the first settlers to pick up handfuls of virgin prairie loam? What did it smell like? What happiness did they feel? If soil was virgin, what is farming? Do we choose a love affair, or is it a coarse taking? –Turn Here Sweet Corn
Organic Fertility is created and preserved by adding organic matter to soils, protecting soil from erosion and other damage, carbon-based soil-building practices, (soil incorporation of nitrogen-fixing legumes and high-carbon biomass grasses) reduced tillage, and crop rotations.
Pest, Weeds, and Disease are largely managed through diverse rotations, providing diverse habitat for beneficial insects, soil building, and creating healthy soils and growing systems.
- Captures carbon from the air and effectively stores it in the soil in high levels for long-periods
- Integrates trees, hedgerows and pastures into farming systems to increase carbon capture and biodiversity
- Reduces greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use through an appropriate combination of organic fertilizers, cover crops and less intensive tillage
- Puts people at the center of the farming system to increase resilience, income, and food security
Organic farming is the only form of agriculture with the potential to be completely renewable—it has the potential to be solely based on renewable energy—the sun.
Why Organic Matters | Facts And Research Links
1) Climate Change and Energy
Organic agriculture provides solutions to many of the major challenges facing humans and the planet today—including climate change and peak oil.
In the last decade, scientists have come to an overwhelming consensus that the world has entered an era of rapid global climate change, much of which is attributable to green house gas (GHG) emissions from human activity. Agriculture and the food we eat is a significant contributor to this problem.
Conventional agricultural systems reliant on off-farm inputs require enormous amounts of fossil fuels to mine, manufacture, transport, and apply fertilizers and pesticides. These processes release green house gasses. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that agricultural land use contributes 12% of global GHG emissions. The U.S EPA estimates that once on soils, synthetic fertilizers generate over 304 million tons of GHG emissions each year.
IFOAM Report: Organic Agriculture can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This is mainly due to the following factors:
- Soil fertility is maintained mainly through farm internal inputs (organic manures, legume production, wide crop rotations etc.)
- Energy-demanding synthetic fertilizers and plant protection agents are not used
- External animal feeds – often with thousands of transportation miles – are limited to a low level
Fast Facts from Rodale Institute’s 30 year Organic/Conventional Trials.
- Organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient.
- Conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gases.
- Organic Farming systems sequester 15-28% more carbon than conventional systems.
- Conventional fields showed a net loss in carbon.
- Organic yields match conventional yields.
- Organic outperforms conventional in years of drought.
- Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system.
- The organic system gives better environmental stability under flood conditions, by allowing less runoff and harvesting more water for groundwater recharge.
2) Food Security and Stability
Climate change has brought with it erratic shifts in temperatures and precipitation, and increases in violent storms. This presents a serious threat for agricultural production.
Organic fields are better equipped to store and use water. For every 1 percent of organic matter sequestered, the soil can hold roughly 16,500 gallons of plant-available water per acre of soil down to 1 foot deep.
At Rodale, organic corn yields were equivalent to conventional in an average year. In years of drought, organic yields were 31% higher! A thirteen-year side-by-side comparison at Iowa State University confirms what has been demonstrated at Rodale. Organic fields consistently produce higher yields than conventional during droughts and extreme conditions.
Organic systems are the only approach that will be able to feed the world in the face of climate change, natural resource scarcity, and growing demand. We need the resiliency and renewability provided by carbon-based fertility as the foundation of agricultural systems.
The commoditization, genetic distortion, and chemical input of our food and farming systems have taken the food power away from the very people who need it the most. Today the world’s farmers produce 4600 calories per person per day, enough to feed twice the present world population. The challenge is not yield, but access, affordability, and stability.
To create world food security we need decentralized, organic systems that support local economies. To solve world hunger, farmers in developing countries need freedom from dependence on external inputs such as genetically modified seeds, chemical pesticides, and fertilizers which they can’t afford, and which are going to become more expensive since they are based on fossil fuels, a finite resource, which destroys their already fragile soils.
UN-FAO Organic Agriculture and Food Security, 2007
- Organic systems in Southwest Ethiopia have allowed people once dependent on food aid to increase their yields by 60%, enough food to feed themselves and even have surplus to sell at local markets (Hattam, 2002).
- The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations cites research showing that, in subsistence agricultural systems, the adoption of organic practices results in increased yields up to 180 percent.
The words “economy” and “ecology” both stem from the same Greek root, oikos, meaning “house.” It is not possible to have economic sustainability with economical sustainability. The earth is the home of all life on it. What we do in nature we to ourselves.
We hear often about the importance of protecting biological diversity—it’s not just about exotic life forms, not just a question of habitat and endangered species protection—it’s also about us. And our food supply.
Organic farmers build biodiversity as the cornerstone of the farming system, which in turn provides “eco-system services” to society.
The Definition Of Ecosystem Services Is Simple:
The benefits people obtain from natural ecosystems.
But the services themselves are complex and crucial to the future of life on the planet. They include:
- Provisioning services such as food and fresh water and genetic diversity
- Regulating services such as climate, flood, and disease control
- Cultural services such as spiritual, recreational, and cultural benefits
- Supporting services that maintain the conditions for life on Earth, such as nutrient cycling, production of atmospheric oxygen, and soil formation.
Habitat loss through farming is the leading cause of both species extinctions and ecosystem service decline. Managing the land with organic methods preserves its ecosystem while also contributing food to the community.
The organic fertility system of captured carbon, in the form of organic matter, provides many crucial eco-system services: storing plant nutrients, binding soil particles, reducing erosion, holding water and increasing aeration, stabilizing soil temperatures, binding heavy metals and pesticides, and more. Building soils and creating beneficial habitat:
- Protects water quality by increasing hydrology (reduce flooding, and nitrate leeching)
- Reduces the need for synthetic fertility, pesticides, and fungicides
- Increases genetic diversity both in the below and above ground.
High applications of fertilizers and pesticides can increase nutrients and toxins in groundwater and surface waters, incurring health and water purification costs, and decreasing fishery and recreational values.
In long-term research at Washington State, nitrogen (N) losses to groundwater and the atmosphere were reduced in organic orchards, relative to conventional orchards. Annual nitrate leaching was 4.4-5.6 times higher in conventional plots than in organic plots. The organically farmed soils exhibited higher potential denitrification rates, greater denitrification efficiency, higher levels of organic matter, and greater microbial activity than the conventionally farmed soils.
- Current estimates are that over one billion pounds of synthetic pesticides are used by agriculture in the U.S. each year.
- Many of these pesticides: herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides, are toxic to humans and animals. They are designed to kill and are nearly inescapable in the water we drink, the food we eat, and the air we breathe. The EPA has required testing of less than 1% of the chemicals currently in commerce.
- Atrazine herbicide exposure at time of conception has been linked to lower math and reading skills in children.
- Glyphosate-based herbicides, (Monsanto’s Round-up) currently legal in our food at low levels, have been shown to cause DNA damage, infertility, low sperm count, and prostrate or testicular cancer in rats. Glyphosate–based herbicides are toxic and endocrine disruptors in human cell lines
- The study Pesticide Appliers, Biocides, and Birth Defects in Rural Minnesota found the birth defect rate for all birth anomalies was significantly increased in children born to pesticide appliers. Research has found certain agricultural chemicals can alter our DNA, meaning the effects can be passed on through the generations.
- According to the report American Children and the Environment by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, organophosphate pesticides (OP) are now found in the blood of 95 percent of Americans tested. Levels of OP pesticides are twice as high in blood samples of children than in adults. Exposure to OP pesticides are linked to hyperactivity, behavior disorders, learning disabilities, developmental delays, and motor dysfunction.
- The United States Centers for Disease Control reports that one of the main sources of pesticide exposure for United States children comes from the food they eat.
- The Food and Drug Administration reports that half of the produce tested from grocery stores contains measurable residues of pesticides. Laboratory tests of eight industry-leader baby foods reveal the presence of 16 pesticides, including three carcinogens. EPA’s “Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment,” states that children receive 50% of their lifetime cancer risks in the first two years of life.
- Even the President’s Cancer Panel 2008-2009 report recommends that Americans consume foods grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and growth hormones and warns that our lackadaisical approach to regulation may have far-reaching consequences for our health. “The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals. Many of these chemicals are known or suspected of having either carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties. Leukemia rates are consistently elevated among children who grow up on farms, among children whose parents used pesticides in the home or garden, and among children of pesticide applicators.”
- According to three recent studies funded by the National Institutes of Health, children whose mothers were exposed to common pesticides are more likely to experience problems with cognitive development, including lower IQ and impaired memory and reasoning. The studies examined individuals from a range of ethnic backgrounds, and those who lived in both rural and urban settings.
- The U.S. Geologic Survey has shown that rainwater in 8 Midwestern states consistently contains over 100% of the Safe Drinking Water limit for Atrazine and Alachlor Environ. Sci. Technol., 1997, 31 (5), pp 1325–1333