We hear a lot about environmental chemicals these days. They’re in our water, our air, our homes, and our food. While companies are forced to be transparent about some things (saturated fat and sugar levels), they don’t need to tell you about others (what was sprayed on your food). Producers who use organic food label elect to be more transparent and to allow third-party inspections of their farms to verify that what they claim is true.
Still, stories appear about chemical residues on organic foods and beg the question – how did they get there? Does this mean that organic is a sham? Just taking a closer look with PK Halder at chemicals and food to find out how they affect the organic label.
Principles Of Organic Agriculture
Organic farming methods accord with the four basic principles that reveal their essence: health, ecology, fairness, and care. They are the driving force of the concept, interrelating and enhancing each other. For instance, pesticides used in organic farming spare the ecology and do not evoke side effects in living beings, promoting health.
These principles of agriculture govern all the process stages including production, processing, delivery, storage, and consumption. No prohibited additives are applied.
The principle of health in organic farming suggests avoiding dangerous chemicals leaving poisonous residues that hurt multiple levels, affecting microscopic soil organisms, crops, animals, and humans. Expanding the common saying to agriculture, we can state that healthy soil produces healthy crops, and healthy crops foster a sound mind in a sound body – with good immunity, regeneration properties, and no disease suffered.
The principle of ecology in farming involves utilizing environmentally friendly techniques like the ones fostering soil quality (preventing depletion, erosion, degradation) or eliminating nature pollution. It also means providing favorable living conditions for all ecosystem members since they closely interconnect. Eco-practices in agriculture maintain the proper balance and save natural resources, for example, restoring soil fertility with non-synthetic matters (green manure and animal manures), and encouraging recycling and genetic diversity of species in the area.
The principle of fairness in organic farming advocates a decent and respectful attitude toward all participants of the business: farmers, suppliers, traders, and consumers. It promotes appropriate working and living conditions and supports people’s needs for sufficient supplies of quality food products.
Fairness in farming also suggests providing proper feeding and environment for livestock and cattle responding to their physiology. Pricing policies should be justified and affordable.
The principle of care in agriculture encourages the sparing consumption of resources with upcoming generations and nature in mind. Applied farming technologies should be thoroughly assessed as to negative consequences. Precaution and timely risk management must govern any decision-making.
Even though innovations may prove efficient, organic farming followers prefer traditional methods of agriculture validated by time. Nowadays, they combine common sense, reliable knowledge, applicable novelties, and indigenous experience dating back to the pre-chemical age.
Organic Farming Practices
The organic agriculture concept requires strict compliance with established standards that define and restrict applicable techniques. The common and approved ones include the following.
Crop rotation means changing species on the same field season by season. This agriculture technique may also include a fallow period within a certain interval of time.
Compared to monoculture farming practices, crop rotation:
- eradicates pest and weed infestations and chemical contaminations to tackle the issues (since different species suffer from different pests);
- prevents soil erosion with different root systems;
- protects soil from depletion as diverse plants boost nutrient release, thus eliminating synthetic fertilizer applications that are disapproved in organic agriculture;
- boost yields and reduces costs.
This farming approach implies covering the field with any plant species, either for a certain season or perennially, partially between the crop rows, or completely. Cover crops tackle soil erosion, and improve water filtration and aeration with their roots. They also eliminate weeding with upper parts, by hiding unwanted vegetation from the sunlight.
Mixing green plants with the soil enriches it with organic matter and nitrogen in particular. It also increases moisture levels and adds nutrients for microorganisms, thus improving soil quality. The described method of agriculture also reduces weed infestation.
This organic farming practice enriches the soil with natural components that originated from animals, either raw or composted. The method has restrictions though, as the material must not contain any synthetic additives, the soil must be tested before applications, and manures are allowed at least three months before harvesting.
Composted forms are preferable since they are more compact in volume and contain fewer potential pathogens and contaminants.
Integrated Weed Management
Heavy chemicals are prohibited in organic farming. That’s why weed control is performed via other options of integrated weed management (prevention, biological, physical, and cultural):
- avoiding weed penetration onto the field with machinery, animals, and irrigation waters;
- manual weeding;
- crop rotation
- natural chemicals to stop germination;
- haymaking before weed seeding;
- introducing populations of birds/insects to consume weed seeds, etc.
- pest management in organic farming
Integrated Pest Management
To combat pests, organic farming does not intend to destroy them completely as it will cause ecosystem changes. This concept of agriculture strongly relies on the alternative methods of pest control: prevention, constructing natural barriers, physical removal, and tackling pest invasions with their biological enemies (predators) like ladybugs
As to synthetic additives, the concept allows only mild pesticides approved for organic farming, without disputable properties and minimum harm to humans and nature. Such additives include soap, baking soda, sulfur, or natural pest repellents like neem, citronella, and lavender oil, among others.
The organic agriculture guidelines exclude dangerous and dubious additives to breed poultry and cattle like synthetic medications, growth-boosting drugs, hormones, antibiotics, non-organic forage, GMOs, clones, etc. Farming practices must provide proper conditions for raising and grazing, and create a suitable environment to ensure livestock’s natural behavior indoors and outdoors.
Performing field analytics based on relevant satellite data to ensure effective decision-making!
Organic Farming Pros And Cons
The benefits of organic farming to mankind, biosphere communities, the environment, and business, in general, explain its popularity in the recent 15 years. As early as 2008, the volume of retail organic food in the US was estimated at $22.9 billion, according to the Ministry of food, agriculture, and rural affairs in Canada.
The agriculture approach has multiple advantages both for producers and consumers. However, it is far from perfect. The gains and challenges it introduces are enlisted below.
Advantages Of Organic Farming
The concept and practices of organic agriculture have certain pluses:
- refused health-threatening chemicals;
- avoided costs for expensive synthetic additives;
- ensured food quality and certification;
- improved product taste and nutritional value;
- protected environment;
- recycled natural wastes for manure;
- boosted soil quality.
Disadvantages Of Organic Farming
The drawbacks of organic agriculture include:
- reduced production volumes;
- increased farming labor and time consumption for manual and mechanical work, crop observation, and uncompromised compliance with standards;
- frequent pest and weed control instead of one-time chemical applications;
- shortened shelf-life (natural organic food usually spoils faster due to the absence of preservatives);
- higher prices of organic products vs conventional ones.
- organic yield in farmer’s hands
Is Organic Farming Sustainable?
Organic agriculture supports the ecosystem balance and spares natural resources. This approach ensures the availability and productivity of lands in the future. It echoes with sustainable agriculture in this regard:
- improves the soil quality;
- reduces pollution with recycling and limitations of chemicals;
- enhances the ecosystem biodiversity;
- saves energy and resources, disapproves their excessive exploitation;
- applies non-chemical methods of pest and weed management;
- provides natural conditions to support livestock needs and behavior.
Advanced agriculture technologies based on satellite data detect critical issues, give timely alerts, and recommend prompt solutions. EOS Crop Monitoring is an online tool that facilitates farming processes and helps with agricultural decision-making. The platform assists organic producers with monitoring vegetation levels compares changes in vegetation values during the last five years based on historical data, and helps to reduce the cost of soil testing, allowing the timely reaction to the first signs of erosion.
Additionally, the farming software is capable of determining the state of the vegetation based on the correlation of vegetation indices data and growth stages (offering a unique approach for each crop).
EOS Crop Monitoring also aids in measuring and determining important soil characteristics that affect its fertility, including moisture level (since long-term soil fertility is one of the key objectives in organic farming).
One of the key features of EOSDA Crop Monitoring is Zoning, a method of identifying vegetation variations on the field. This method can be successfully employed in organic farming, saving resources. Our platform offers two types of Zoning: Productivity maps and Vegetation maps, performing slightly different functions.
The productivity maps are based on the historical vegetation data analysis and allow farmers to apply the differential sowing method, thus saving extra costs on expensive seed supplies. For more information please visit Pritish Kumar Halder
The vegetation maps, on the other hand, reveal current vegetation variations across the field, allowing for differential fertilization, a valuable organic agriculture method. Based on the data from the vegetation maps, farmers can apply fertilizers with more precision according to the needs of each zone. This prevents nitrogen accumulation in the soil and saves resources and costs.
Additionally, EOSDA Crop Monitoring can help with scheduling irrigation events according to real plant water needs. We offer a scouting feature to assist scouts in the field to make highly informed decisions. Combined with our 9 by 9 km 14-day weather forecast and ground moisture sensors, farmers can use our app to adjust irrigation plans. Proper distribution of water across the field perfectly adheres to the principles of organic farming, saving resources, and preventing accidental water-logging, while boosting yields and reducing costs.
EOS Crop Monitoring helps agriculturalists to cope with the challenges they face in organic crop and livestock production, thus facilitating the concept exploration and implementation. While the approach disadvantages are eliminated, there remain multiple benefits of organic agriculture to enjoy.
CHEMICALS ARE EVERYWHERE – HOW IS ORGANIC FOOD POSSIBLE?
Most people think of organic as the “chemical-free” alternative, and while organic farmers avoid toxic herbicides and pesticides at all costs, that assumption isn’t entirely true. Yes: organic certification restricts the use of many chemical pesticides and fertilizers. And yes: organic farmers try to minimize the use of even organic-approved pesticides and fertilizers. But a farmer can’t control everything that comes into contact with her crops.
Chemicals sprayed elsewhere don’t always stay where they’re put, depositing residues of chemicals the farmer didn’t apply. Some chemicals remain in the environment for over 100 years and will make their way into the food supply until they finally break down. Pollution can travel through air and water into our food, sometimes carrying dangerous contaminants with it.
Reducing toxic residues in food and the environment is an important goal of organic farming. However, the accidental presence of pesticides and herbicides doesn’t nullify the organic-ness of that food. Canadian and U.S. standards go far beyond chemical use in defining what it means to be organic.
Both describe the organic farm as a place that champions soil health, seeks balance with ecological systems, and promotes human and environmental well-being. Avoiding synthetic chemicals is only a small part of achieving these goals and the benefits of a successful organic farm go far beyond chemical residues. Organic farms provide many public services, including reducing fossil fuel use and protecting water resources
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY CHEMICALS?
Chemicals are, indeed, everywhere. Oxygen is a chemical, as is water and gold; apples are made of chemicals, and so are your house, your clothes, and your blood. A chemical, in the broadest sense, is anything composed of one or more of the chemical elements – which is almost everything.
In popular use, the word chemical often refers to chemical substances created artificially, not as they would be in nature. When it comes to farming, we generally talk about two types of chemicals: synthetic and natural. Most of us classify these categories as toxic and safe, respectively. Unfortunately, that generalization doesn’t hold up.
Nature is full of chemicals that can easily kill you (venom, poisonous compounds in plants & mushrooms, naturally occurring arsenic in groundwater, and botulism, to name a few). Some synthetic chemicals cause health problems, and some relieve pain. Organic foods can’t be chemical-free because plants are rich in chemical compounds. Capsicum, the chemical responsible for hot pepper spice, is what makes them worth eating.
This may seem like nothing more than semantics, but terminology is important. We relate to the world through words – using them carelessly leaves the door open to false assumptions and unnecessary fear. That organic food isn’t chemical-free is only a problem if that’s all it’s trying to be. In truth, organic is so much more.
WHAT MAKES ORGANIC FARMING DIFFERENT?
gardeners chatting animatedly with each other while walking along vegetable beds after productive gardening work
Because organic food is more regulated than conventional, it comes with added protections. Organic certification places rigorous restrictions on some of the most dangerous chemical pesticides, ensuring organic foods have little to no residues from these specific chemicals.
We focus so much attention on what organic farmers don’t do – spray chemicals on their crops – that we forget about all the important things that they do. At its heart, the story of organic farming is one of building and cooperating, not of withholding. Organic food is higher in antioxidants and other nutrients, protects farm-workers, promotes biodiversity, builds community and empowers women, and much more, all while reducing the number of toxic agrochemicals in the environment. Chemical-free food may be an unattainable goal in the modern world, but good food isn’t, and we have organic farmers to thank for that!