Chapter 1

Introduction to Organic Farming

Definition of Organic Agriculture

The USDA standard defines organic production as “a production system that is managed in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and preserve biodiversity.” It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, or enhance ecological harmony. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals, and people. The national organic standards address the methods, practices, and substances used in producing and handling crops, animal, and processed agricultural products.

Organic Farming Principles

Organic producers must comply with several key organic principles in order to be successful organic and sustainable farmers. These principles aim to increase the quality and the durability of the environment through specific management and production methods.

Biodiversity

As a general rule, diverse ecosystems in nature have a higher degree of stability than those with only a few species. Farms with a diverse mix of crops have a better chance of supporting beneficial organisms that assist in pollination and pest management.

Integration of Organic Farming Practices

An integrated organic farming practices, consists of a range of resource-saving practices that aim to achieve acceptable profits and high and sustained production levels, while minimizing the negative effects of intensive farming and preserving the environment.

Sustainability

Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Therefore, stewardship of both human and natural resources is of prime importance.

Integrity of Organic Products

Consumers have a right to expect that the organic food they buy not only be grown utilizing organic methods, but also be protected from drift contamination and commingling with non-organic products (See Figure 1.4).

Natural Plant Nutrition

A major component of organic production is providing organic sources of nutrients to promote plant growth as well as sustain soil quality. We define, but do not limit, organic nutrient sources acceptable for organic production as natural, carbon-containing, free from prohibited substances, nonsynthetic materials such as compost, livestock manures, green manures or cover crops.

Natural Pest Management

The growing demand for organic food produced a more sophisticated marketplace. Supply chains lengthened as organic products traveled longer distances to reach customers. Third party certification emerged as a means of assuring those consumers that the products they purchased were truly organic. Certification agents, as the “third party,” stand between organic farmers and food processors, and the ones who buy their products. They provide assurance to the consumer that he or she is truly getting an organic product.

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