Organic farming – definition and meaning

Organic farming or low input farming refers to livestock or vegetable production using natural sources, nutrients, and methods. We also call it organic agriculture. Organic farming relies upon natural forms of farming such as crop rotation and biological pest control. Biological pest control includes, for example, using ladybugs (UK: ladybirds) which eat aphids, rather than spraying crops with artificial pesticides.

Organic farmers do not routinely administer antibiotics to their animals. Conventional farmers, however, do.

Organic farmers grow and sell organic food.

There is more to organic farming than simply choosing not to use artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or genetically-modified organisms. It is a holistic system which optimizes the productivity and fitness of diverse communities within the agro-ecosystem.

According to Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs:

“The principal goal of organic production is to develop enterprises that are sustainable and harmonious with the environment.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) says the following regarding organic agriculture:

“It is a system that begins to consider potential environmental and social impacts by eliminating the use of synthetic inputs, such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, veterinary drugs, genetically modified seeds and breeds, preservatives, additives, and irradiation.”

Organic farming - explanation and examples
Organic farming means rearing animals and cultivating crops naturally. In other words, without the artificial chemicals and methods that conventional farming uses.

Organic farming is more expensive

Organic farming is less efficient than intensive farming. Therefore, organic produce costs more.

Demand for organic fruit, vegetables, and meats is increasing rapidly in many countries. However, when people’s incomes drop, as may occur during a recession, they revert to non-organic produce.

Organic foods are generally more expensive than other foods for several reasons. Organic farms are typically smaller than conventional, highly-intensive ones. Below are some more reasons explaining why organic farming is more expensive.

Crops take longer

Crops, on average, take longer to grow because organic farmers do not use artificial chemicals. For their livestock, they do not use growth hormones.

Therefore, for example with crops, organic farmers cannot get as many harvests in a given period as conventional farmers.

Organic farming – crop rotation

To keep the soil healthy, organic farmers conduct a crop-rotation system. Crop rotation also helps prevent weed growth.

This means that some parts of an organic farm are not producing things the farmer can sell. Instead, those fields grow ‘cover crops’ which add nutrients, such as nitrogen to the soil.

Conventional farmers use every inch of their land all the time. They use artificial fertilizers to help feed their crops.

Animal welfare

In organic farming, animal welfare is a top priority. Animal welfare costs money.

For example, keeping 10,000 egg-laying hens in batteries is much cheaper than raising free-range poultry.

Not only are the running costs higher, but also the capital costs. To house 10,000 free-range hens, you need at least ten times more land than you do for battery hens. Land costs money.

Video – conventional vs. organic farming

This Grain Farmers of Ontario video gives us the pros and cons of organic and conventional farming. It claims not to try to persuade viewers either way, but rather to give us all the facts.