In this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhOrIUlrnPo) we looked at the key principles of organic farming – the use of more natural alternatives instead of chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides or feed additives for livestock. This all sounds great, but there is more to the story.
Organic farming isn’t all good. The yields are lower because more produce is damaged by pests, and carefully selected chemical pesticides cannot be used. With an ever-growing world population, we have limited land to feed everyone from. So should we therefore just focus on maximising yields?
Or to get the same yields, more land would need to be farmed. Where would this surplus land come from – cutting down our remaining forests and rainforests? This would be far worse for the environment both in terms of climate change and biodiversity.
A study in the UK found that a litre of organic milk requires 80% more land than conventional milk to produce. That’s a lot more land, and makes you wonder whether organic foods are a luxury the world just cannot afford to provide.
Interestingly, it has been found that some organic farming methods require more water than non-organic alternatives; a huge problem as droughts become more regular and water more scarce.
Organic is not necessarily better for the environment either. Organic dairy farms do actually produce more methane per cow than conventional farms because of the diet of the cattle: organic cows apparently burp twice as much as conventional cows!! As methane is a greenhouse gas, this does not bode well for global warming.
You also need to consider the airmiles of your produce… in the UK most of the organic food is imported, so if there is a conventionally farmed alternative from a local source then it may be better for the environment to opt for that product.
Scientists are still fiercely debating whether conventional or organic farming has a larger environmental footprint; so I am not expecting you to have a clear opinion either!
It is actually a big misconception that organic farms cannot use any pesticides; they can because without them, the crop yields would be much too low for the farm to be sustained. Organic farmers can use both synthetic and natural kinds of pesticides, but some of the regular pesticide chemicals are banned on organic farms. As fewer chemicals are used, there is less risk of chemicals remaining on the food, which can only be a good thing for consumers.
Scientists are still debating the pros and cons of organic farming in comparison to conventional farming, and there is plenty of information you can read online. The tricky part is that most articles are very biased so don’t be swayed by the first article you read.
The principles of organic farming are obviously very good for the environment, but in reality yields matter. There is a balance to be found between looking after our soils and environment, and so employing organic strategies such as crop rotations, but having a limited amount of agricultural land and an ever-growing population.
Many conventional farmers employ organic strategies to do their best for the soil structure and local biodiversity, but make use of chemicals in the lowest levels possible whilst still maintaining yields.
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