Saturday, May 30, 2009

Organic Farming - Benefits

Agricultural Contaminants

Agricultural contaminants such as inorganic fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides from conventional agriculture are a major concern all over the world.

Eutrophication, the suffocation of aquatic plants and animals due to rapid growth of algae, referred to as "algae blooms", are literally killing lakes, rivers and other bodies of water. Persistent herbicides and insecticides can extend beyond target weeds and insects when introduced into aquatic environments. These chemicals have accumulated up the food chain whereby top predators often consume toxic dosages. Organic agriculture restores the environmental balance and has none of these or other such deleterious effects on the environment.


Biodiversity

A wide range of organisms benefit from organic farming, but it is unclear whether organic methods confer greater benefits than integrated agri-environmental conventional programs.

Organic crops use little or no herbicides and pesticides and thus biodiversity fitness and population density benefit. Many weed species attract beneficial insects that improve soil qualities and forage on weed pests. Soil-bound organisms often benefit because of increased bacteria populations due to natural fertilizer spread and reduced intake of herbicides and pesticides. Varieties of bacteria and fungi break down chemicals, plant matter and animal waste into productive soil nutrients. In turn, the producer benefits by healthier yields and more arable soil for future crops.


Soil Conservation

Agriculture relies on roughly one meter of topsoil, and that is being depleted ten times faster than it is being replaced.

No-till farming, which some claim depends upon pesticides, is regarded as one way to minimize erosion. However, a recent study by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service has found that manure applications in organic farming are better at building up the soil than no-till despite tillage.


Mitigate Climate Change

Organic agriculture can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by effectively locking more carbon into the soil rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. Application of compost, mulch, green manure etc introduced more organic matter in to the soil, locking up carbon and keeping it out of the atmosphere. Scientists also believe that emission of methane gas, a noxious greenhouse gas, from conventional animal husbandry, could be cut dramatically by feeding the cows with leguminous foliage.

Production of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which is indispensable in conventional faring, produces NO2, another greenhouse gas. Organic farming, which excludes application of chemical fertilizers, too will remove the potential emission of NO2 into the atmosphere.


Food Quality & Safety

Organic food is widely believed by the lay public to be healthier than conventional food, although the research is inconclusive. Organic produce is likely to have less agrochemical residues, but these residues are generally below the acceptable daily intake and their health impact is questionable. Organic food also appears to have lower nitrate concentrations, but the health impact of nitrates is debated. However, studies show both organic and conventional food are expected to have similar concentrations of persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals.


Energy Saving

Currently, we use around 10 calories of fossil energy to produce one calorie of food energy. Studies by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs shows that, on average, organically grown crops use 25% less energy than conventional agricultural.

The organic movement was born out of a commitment to provide local food for local people, and so it is logical that organic marketing encourages localisation through veg boxes, farm shops and stalls. Local distribution and consumption (such as organic box schemes), energy used dwindled to a fraction of that needed for an intensive, centralised food system.
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