Organic farming is a production system that avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators, genetically modified organisms and animal feed additives.
This farming system primarily relies upon crop rotation, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, organic farm residues, organic manures, mechanised farming, mineral fertilisers to maintain the maximum possible productivity and yield of the soil. Organic methods can increase agricultural productivity, repair decades of environmental damage and weave small farm families into more sustainable distribution networks leading to improved food security if they organise themselves in production, certification and marketing.
During the last few years an increasing number of farmers have shown lack of interest in farming and farmers are trying to switch their occupation. Organic farming is a way to promote either self-sufficiency or food security. The large-scale use of chemical fertilisers and toxic pesticides greatly poisons the land and water. The latter impacts have serious ecological consequences, including loss of topsoil, reduction of soil fertility, contamination of surface and ground water and loss of genetic diversity. Organic farming, which is a holistic production management system that promotes and enhances the health of agro-ecosystems including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity, is therefore important.
Several studies have shown that organic farming methods can yield higher yields than conventional methods. Significant differences in soil health indicators such as nitrogen mineralization potential and microbial abundance and diversity, which were higher in organic farms, could also be observed. The incidence of insects and diseases is significantly lower in organic farms due to increased soil health.
Emphasis on small-scale integrated farming systems has the potential to revitalise rural areas and their economies.
Advantages of organic farming
1. It helps to maintain environmental health by reducing pollution levels.
2. This reduces human and animal health risks by reducing the level of residues in the product.
3. It helps in maintaining sustainable agricultural production.
4. It reduces the cost of agricultural production as no expensive synthetic fertilisers are used and also improves soil health.
5. It ensures optimum utilisation of natural resources for short-term gain and helps in their conservation for future generations.
6. This not only saves energy for both animals and machines, but also reduces the risk of crop failure.
7. It improves soil physical properties like granularity, good tillering, good aeration, easy root penetration and water holding capacity and reduces erosion.
8. It improves soil chemical properties such as soil nutrient supply and retention, reduces nutrient loss to water bodies and the environment and promotes favourable chemical reactions.
Nutrient management in organic farming
In organic farming, it is important to constantly work to create a healthy soil that is rich in organic matter and contains all the nutrients that plants need. Many ways viz. Green manure, compost and organic fertilisers etc. can be used to increase the fertility of the land. These organic sources not only add various nutrients to the soil, but also help to suppress weeds and increase soil organic matter to feed soil microorganisms. Soils with high organic matter resist soil erosion, retain water well and thus require less irrigation. Some natural minerals needed to improve plant growth and soil integrity can also be added. Soil amendments such as lime are added to adjust the pH balance of the soil. However, soil amendments and water should contain minimal heavy metals. Most of the organic fertilisers used are recycled by-products from other industries that would otherwise go to waste. Farmers also make compost from animal manure and mushroom manure.
In organic farming, synthetic chemical herbicides cannot be used. So weeding can only be done manually. Various cultural practices such as tillage, flooding, mulching can be used for weed management. In addition, biological (pathogen) methods can be used to manage damage caused by weeds. When the land is fallow, a cover crop can be planted to suppress weeds and improve soil quality. Whenever possible, weed growth can be limited by using drip irrigation, which restricts water distribution across the plant line.
- Pest management
In organic farming, the presence of pests (where and when) is predicted in advance and accordingly the sowing schedule and locations are adjusted as much as possible to avoid serious pest problems. The main strategy for combating harmful insects is to create populations of beneficial insects, whose larvae feed on the eggs of the insects. The key to building beneficial insect populations is to establish borders (host crops) around fields planted with a mix of flowering plants. The beneficial insects are then periodically released into the fields, where the host crops serve as their home base and attract more beneficial insects over time. When faced with a pest outbreak that cannot be controlled by beneficial insects, natural or other biologically acceptable insecticides such as neem insecticides are used. The two most important criteria for approved organic pesticides are low toxicity to people and other animals and low persistence in the environment. These standards are set by the National Organic Standards.
Disease management in organic farming
Plant diseases are major constraints to reduce crop yield and quality in organic and low-input production systems. Crop fertility management through balanced supply of macro and micro nutrients and adoption of crop rotation improves crop resistance to certain diseases. Thus one of the greatest rewards of organic farming is healthy soil with beneficial organisms. These healthy microbes, fungi and bacteria keep harmful bacteria and fungi away keeping diseases at bay.