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Go Organic!


Organic farming works in harmony with nature rather than against it. This involves
using techniques to achieve good crop yields without harming the natural
environment or the people who live and work in it.
In recent years, organic farming has attracted new scrutiny, not just from critics who fear that a large-scale shift in its direction would cause billions to starve, but also from farmers and development agencies who actually suspect that such a shift could better satisfy hungry populations. Unfortunately, no one had ever systematically analyzed whether in fact a widespread shift to organic farming would run up against a shortage of nutrients and a lack of yields

According to public perception, organic food is the healthy option. Sales of organic produce have rocketed over the past few years with the organics industry sending out messages of safer, healthier food created by farming practices which are better for the environment. But is it really as good as we think? Critics argue that organic farming leads to the risk of contamination with potentially dangerous bacteria and mould toxins, and increased levels of ‘natural pesticide’ found in organic produce could even be as dangerous as synthetic chemicals.
So who do we believe? Are organic fruit and vegetables as harmless as they appear? And why do they cost so much? Crop rotations, higher animal welfare standards and restricted use of chemicals, leading to lower yields, all mean that organic food costs more to produce. Subsidies from the government are paid mainly to farmers with non-organic farms allowing them to keep their prices low. The pro-organic lobby argue that when buying non-organic food you are in fact paying threefold; once at the counter, second via taxation and third to remedy the environmental pollution. As the sector develops and technologies are improved, the cost of organic food should decrease as yields increase and production costs decrease.Many in the public perceive organic food as the healthy option. However, organo-sceptics argue that organic food may not be as safe as we think.

The public’s viewpoint is based on the fact that no synthetic pesticides or fertilisers are used in organic agriculture leading to the assumption that no pesticide residues are present on the products. Without the use of pesticides, organic crops develop a natural defence mechanism in the form of chemicals all called phenols. The organic supporters claim that these chemicals are antioxidants and that organic fruit and vegetables are better at protecting the body from cancers and heart disease.

Organic-sceptics argue that these natural pesticides may be a potential health risk and insist that there is no evidence to show health gains from organic food. The lack of evidence, however, may be due to the difficulty in conducting such a study.

The use of manure as a fertilizer in organic farming leads to fears of contamination of produce with bacteria such as E. coli which could lead to food poisoning. However, it has been shown that by composting the manure for a precise time at an exact temperature, the amount of bacteria present is greatly reduced. As long as these conditions are adhered to, the risk of food poisoning is kept to a minimum.

Another significant concern regarding organic farming is the contamination of produce with toxic substances produced by moulds called mycotoxins. There is a greater chance of crops being vulnerable to moulds if they are damaged by insects or weather. The organic lobby argues that although less effective fungicides are used in their farming methods, organic produce is less prone to fungal attack as crops are not fed with chemicals known as nitrates which may make plant cells in conventional crops more vulnerable to fungal growth.

Organic farming does not mean going ‘back’ to traditional methods. Many of the
farming methods used in the past are still useful today. Organic farming takes
the best of these and combines them with modern scientific knowledge.
Organic farmers do not leave their farms to be taken over by nature; they use all
the knowledge, techniques and materials available to work with nature. In this
way the farmer creates a healthy balance between nature and farming, where
crops and animals can grow and thrive.

Pests and diseases are part of nature. In the ideal system there is a natural
balance between predators and pests
. If the system is imbalanced then one
population can become dominant because it is not being preyed upon by another.
The aim of natural control is to restore a natural balance between pest and
predator and to keep pests and diseases down to an acceptable level. The aim
is not to eradicate them altogether.

In organic farming systems, the aim is not necessarily the elimination of weeds
but their control. Weed control means reducing the effects of weeds on crop
growth and yield.

Organic farming avoids the use of herbicides which, like pesticides, leave harmful
residues in the environment. Beneficial plant life such as host plants for useful
insects may also be destroyed by herbicides.
On an organic farm, weeds are controlled using a number of methods:
• Crop rotation
• Hoeing
• Mulches, which cover the soil and stop weed seeds from germinating
• Hand-weeding or the use of mechanical weeders
• Planting crops close together within each bed, to prevent space for weeds
to emerge
• Green manures or cover crops to outcompete weeds
• Soil cultivation carried out at repeated intervals and at the appropriate time,
when the soil is moist. Care should be taken that cultivation does not cause
soil erosion.
• Animals as weeders to graze on weeds
Weeds do have some useful purposes. They can provide protection from erosion,
food for animals and beneficial insects and food for human use.

KEY BENEFITS OF ORGANIC FARMING
Organic products meet stringent standards – Organic certification is the public’s assurance that products have been grown and handled according to strict procedures without persistent toxic chemical inputs.

Organic food tastes great! – It’s common sense – well-balanced soils produce strong, healthy plants that become nourishing food for people and animals.

Organic production reduces health risks – Many EPA-approved pesticides were registered long before extensive research linked these chemicals to cancer and other diseases. Organic agriculture is one way to prevent any more of these chemicals from getting into the air, earth and water that sustain us.

Organic farms respect our water resources – The elimination of polluting chemicals and nitrogen leaching, done in combination with soil building, protects and conserves water resources.

Organic farmers build healthy soil – Soil is the foundation of the food chain. The primary focus of organic farming is to use practices that build healthy soils.

Organic farmers work in harmony with nature – Organic agriculture respects the balance demanded of a healthy ecosystem: wildlife is encouraged by including forage crops in rotation and by retaining fence rows, wetlands, and other natural areas.

Organic producers are leaders in innovative research – Organic farmers have led the way, largely at their own expense, with innovative on-farm research aimed at reducing pesticide use and minimizing agriculture’s impact on the environment.

Organic producers strive to preserve diversity – The loss of a large variety of species (biodiversity) is one of the most pressing environmental concerns. The good news is that many organic farmers and gardeners have been collecting and preserving seeds, and growing unusual varieties for decades.
Organic farming helps keep rural communities healthy – USDA reported that in 1997, half of U.S. farm production came from only 2% of farms. Organic agriculture can be a lifeline for small farms because it offers an alternative market where sellers can command fair prices for crops.

Organic abundance – Foods and non-foods alike! – Now every food category has an organic alternative. And non-food agricultural products are being grown organically – even cotton, which most experts felt could not be grown this way.

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