Principles and Best Practices of Organic Farming

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organic farming

IFOAM (n.d.) defines organic farming or agriculture as a system of production that preserves soil health, the ecosystems and lives through naturally occurring processes, biodiversity, and local cycles (IFoam, n.d.). It is based on four principles:

Principles

The principle of health is paramount in organic farming from beginning to end (IFoam, n.d.). All stages – from farming and processing, distribution to consumption – are aimed at preserving and optimizing the health of the entire ecosystems and all organisms in it. These begin from the soil itself to human beings. Under the health principle, organic agriculture specifically turns out only high-quality and nutritious produce to preserve health and total well-being. It avoids using synthetic and other dangerous fertilizers, pesticides, drugs and additives  This strongly implies that human health is bound up with that of the communities and of the ecosystem itself. Health among these groups is interwoven and inseparable. The soil must be nourished regularly in order to produce good crops, which in turn, make people and communities healthy (IFoam, n.d.).

The principle of ecology emphasizes that production phases must cohere with ecological processes as well as recycling. It makes clear that nourishment, health and the well-being of organisms in the face of the earth are to be seen as composites, rather than separate. Along with pastoral and wild harvest systems, organic agricultural must align with the cycles and maintain ecological balance. Their operations are specific to locations and conditions. Excess inputs should be managed by reusing, recycling and managing extra energy and materials. These are performed for the purpose of maintaining and improving environmental quality and preserving overall resources. It also designs farming systems, sets up habitats and maintains biodiversity to achieve ecological balance (IFoam, n.d.).

The principle of fairness provides that those engaged in organic agriculture should relate with one another with fairness (IFoam, n.d.). They include farmers, laborers, processors, traders and end-consumers. The intent of this principle is that all stakeholders live quality lives in order to turn out quality products or services. This condition raises poverty levels and reduces poverty incidence and prevalence, which are common among most farmers. Fairness is not limited to human stakeholders but should extend to animals used for production. They too deserve to be treated with kindness and care and fairness. And the same considerateness should be exercised towards plants and the other components of the environment themselves. Human life depends on them and they, in turn, also need and deserve respect and tender care from human beings. These resources are gifts to mankind who is entrusted with such care for all time. All these mean that all the systems involved in the production, distribution and trade, down to the consumption of goods should consistently observe the culture of fairness (IFoam, n.d.).

And the last principle, the principle of care, links up with the first two  (IFoam, n.d.). Those engaged in organic agriculture must keep the health and overall well-being of today’s lives and tomorrow’s generations. They turn out produce from natural resources in response to internal and external requirements and conditions as well as for justified profit. But the maximization of productivity must never be at the expense of the health, lives and well-being of people, flora and fauna and the soil. Modern technologies have made production and work easier but they must be strictly evaluated and balanced with the protection of the ecosystem. Precaution and responsibility are the management guideposts that serve this principle. Modern knowledge must combine with time-honored and time-tested indigenous methods and know-how. Risks may be avoided if only appropriate and safe technologies are applied or adopted. Genetic engineering, for example, is an example of risky technology. Management decisions must consider the conditions, needs and perceptions of all stakeholders and others involved by consistently enforcing transparency and participative procedures (IFoam, n.d.)

Best Practices

These apply to crop and livestock production and processing.

Crop Production

Soil Fertility – Crops planted on good-quality and fertile soil will be more disease-resistant (USDA, n.d.) This can be done by adding compost and animal or green manure to the soil. The organisms in the enriched soil will convert nutrients for use by plants and also produce humus to enhance the quality of the soil. Sewage sludge or biosolids should not be applied to the soil. Crops should also be covered to shield the soil from damaging winds and erosion. Examples of crop covers are mulches, contour plowing, conservation tillage and strip cropping (USDA, n.d.).

Organic Seeds and Planting Stocks – These are used to preserve crop integrity. The stocks may be grown seeds if the organic type is not commercially available and the seeds have not been genetically modified or exposed to harmful substances, like fungicides (USDA, n.d.).

Crop Rotation – This is done on the planting bed to disturb insect cycles of growth and plant diseases, resist soil erosion, collect organic matter, adapt nitrogen, and enhance biodiversity (USDA, n.d.). One way to effectively reduce crop disease is to plant crops alternately with different crop species and wait for many years before planting the original crop.

Managing Pests, Weeds and Diseases – Farmers initially prevent and avoid these predators when still possible (USDA, n.d.). But when they have overrun the crops, physical or mechanical measures are resorted to, such as removing the insects or applyi8ng thick mulch to cover and eliminate weeds. When these do not work, producers cooperate with organic certifier in applying approved pesticide. Examples are natural microorganisms, those derived from plants or one of the few approved synthetic alternatives (USDA, n.d.).

Maintaining Identity and Integrity of Organic Crops – It is the responsibility of organic producers to assure that their crops do not come into contact with non-organically grown crops (USDA, n,.d.). This can happen through accidental exposure to ordinary synthetic sprays, draft or residues of tools and equipment from non-organic settings. Fields where organic crops are harvested must be strictly bounded from non-organic ones and paths. Producers should not apply prohibited materials to land planted to organic crops for 36 months before harvest of these crops (USDA, n.d.).

Livestock Production

Living Conditions and Facilities: Animals should be housed and cared for in healthy, comfortable areas naturally designed for them (USDA, n.d.). Balancing their productivity with their overall welfare demonstrates concern for them and the environment. The animals should be able to go outdoors, rest under shades, take shelter, breathe fresh air and drink clean water and get exposed to healthy sunlight. Their living areas should also be protected from extremes of weather and climate (USDA, n.d.).\

These animals should be allowed to graze during season and confined only when their health or safety calls for confinement (USDA, n,.d.). Grazing allows the coversion of forage, vegetation and legumes into livestock by-products, manure and recycling nutrients. Rotational grazing will also prevent overgrazing (USDA, n.d.).

Livestock health proceeds from a balance of proper nutrition, sufficient exercise and a minimum of stress to enhance their immune system (USDA, n,d,). Disease can be prevented by avoiding exposure to sources of infection by sustained hygiene, proper grazing measures and vaccination. Producers should be watchful about common antibiotics and hormones

The animals should feed only on certified organic fodder (USDAS, n.d.). Additives like vitamins and minerals may be fed but only in small amounts. Choose only organically reared livestock from the last third pregnancy or gestation from any source but only from the second day of birth (USDA, n,d,).

Processing Practices

Only USDA-certified organic ingredients at a minimum of 95% and approved non-organic product ingredients labeled as organic should be used on organic livestock (USDA, n.d.). Those labeled “made with organic” ingredients must contain only up to 30% of non-organic materials may be allowed (USDA, n.d.).     

The integrity of these ingredients must be assured by preventing mixing with non-organic materials, contact with organic non-organic substances and by strict sanitation (USDA, n.d.).

 

Sources:

IFOAM (n.d.) Principles of Organic Agriculture. IFoam Organics International. Retrieved from https://www.ifoam.bio/sites/default/files/poa_english_web.pdf

———— (n.d.) Cultivating change. Retrieved from https://www.ifoam.bio/en/organic-landmarks/definition-organic-agriculture

USDA (n.d.). Introduction to organic practices. USDA Organic. Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Organic%20Practices%20Factsheet.pdf