Industrial agriculture is a product of our addiction to fossil fuels. Through the use of petrochemicals and energy intensive farm equipment, industrial agriculture has now become conventional. It has been a long time since we relied on nature and good old fashioned physical labour to feed the masses.
Organic Farming Pros and Cons
Organic farming as we know it today developed as an alternative to industrial farming as soon as industrial farming itself was developed. Some people realized immediately that industrial farming would be a dangerous path to take, both on the environment and on society. It gained momentum in the 1960s and 70s, but only appeared in government policy in the United States in 1990.
The natural world has a wonderful way of keeping itself in balance, until humans interfere too much, usually with the intent to exploit its resources for profit. Organic farming requires that humans work together with nature and do not control it. It is more labour intensive than industrial farming by not relying on heavy machinery and it requires limiting the number of external inputs and relying on the natural systems to control pests and disease.
There is one key difference between industrial farming and organic farming – that is that the concept of industrial farming is based on the notion that nature is insufficient and requires human intervention in order to be of any real value. Crops are seen as requiring synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in order to produce huge yields, despite declining nutritive value and damage to the environment. Organic farming is counter to this and its ideals extend beyond the application of particular farming practices to environmental conservation and social justice for both the producer and the consumer.
Organic farming has been found to be a better method of pest control than conventional farming. By not focusing on the absolute number of species, or the species richness, of organic fields, but the “relative abundance” of species, both pests and pest controllers, it was found that not only did organic fields have a more even number of species, but that these even numbers resulted in fewer pests and larger yields.
What About GMOs
One of the most controversial issues in contemporary agriculture industry is genetically modified foods. Proponents view vast possibilities as to what foods we can create, bounded only by technology. Some believe that this would provide the answer to world hunger, and some altered species have already been introduced in developing countries. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been shunned from the organic community based on the precautionary principle. We have no idea of the consequences of introducing altered organisms and their interaction with the environment, and the results could be catastrophic.
Soil quality, one of the most important factors in agriculture, can be sustained at a healthy level through organic practices. Crop rotation and natural fertilizers provide the proper ratio of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, and organic matter, which can often be destroyed through the use of chemicals.
One of the main problems associated with organic farming is the lack of universal standards to regulate what should be declared organic. Countries must develop their certification criteria and with globalized food markets, it is very difficult to be certain that products are wholly organic.
Large-scale operations have begun capitalizing on the organic label, threatening smaller-scale farms and defying what is commonly thought to be the true ideals of organic farming. This can also be attributed to disparities between the legal definition of “organic” and what is commonly known to be organic. Lobbyists can convince governments to amend policies regarding organic farming in their favour. By doing this, some companies are allowed to legally call their products organic, even if they haven’t used true organic methods.
Some farms even aim to be self-sufficient, producing their own compost, feed for their livestock, and manure from their livestock. This plays into a school of farming called biodynamics. Although the science behind biodynamic farming has been characterized as dubious (it sometimes associates itself with astrology and other mystical beliefs), the practice itself is very sustainable. As the certification for a true biodynamic farm is much more stringent than for organic farming, it remains true to its core values of self-sufficiency and zero industrial intervention.
Organic farming is a much lower-impact practice than industrial farming. Greenhouse gas emissions are considerably reduced, food is more nutritional, and ecosystems and humans are much healthier. Considering it is a more natural way to feed ourselves, it is only a matter of time before organic farming becomes conventional farming.