what is organic farming? 11 things (2023) you ought to know

What is organic farming?

The word organic refers to a system of both farming and food production in which farmers create high-quality products.

Organic is built on the following principles: health, ecology, care, and fairness.

Farmers who produce organic products must meet a legal certification to grow, process, and market organic products.

It allows you to bring in higher profits and feel confident about the health of the goods you’re producing.

So, if you’re considering this route, let’s first dive into what is organic farming and what you should know about it before getting started.

We’ll look at it from both the farmer and consumer standpoints: Is it worth farming? Is it worth buying?

Let’s get started!

1. What is organic farming?

Organic farming is an agricultural system that cultivates the land and raises crops in a way that keeps soil is kept alive and in good health using organic wastes.

These organic wastes include crop, animal, farm, and aquatic wastes as well as other biological materials.

Here are the core methods of organic farming:

bulletCrop rotation

bulletGreen manures and compost

bulletBiological pest control

bulletMechanical cultivation

There are core advantages to organic farming, like preserving the soil’s organic composition.

As a result, the food produced from organic farming is more environmentally friendly compared to conventionally produced food.

2. What is organic food?

Organic food has only become more popular in recent decades.

Although most people believe that it’s better than conventionally grown food, not everyone agrees on why.

Some people think it’s inherently safer, healthier, and tastier.

Other people say it’s better for the environment and the well-being of animals.

Here’s the reality of what organic food is.

Organic food has been grown without the use of artificial chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Additionally, to be labeled organic, a food product must be free of artificial food additives such as artificial sweeteners, preservatives, coloring, flavoring, and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Organic food utilizes natural fertilizers, like animal manure, to improve plant growth.

The farming methods also improve soil quality and conserve groundwater while simultaneously reducing pollution.

Here are the most common organic foods: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products, and meat products.

You can also find processed organic products including sodas, cookies, and meat substitutes.

Most of the food products we’ll be discussing in this article will be those that can be produced on a farm.

3. What are the different types of organic farming?

There are two core types of organic farming:

bulletIntegrated organic farming

Integrated organic farming involves combining pest and nutrient management techniques to achieve ecological requirements and fulfill economic demands also.

It uses as much technology as possible while staying within the limits of organic farming.

bulletPure organic farming

Pure organic farming avoids all inorganic chemicals that may harm the soil, crop, or people who consume it entirely.

Farmers will use organic fertilizers and biopesticides derived from natural sources like blood meal, bone meal, etc.

4. What is the history of organic farming?

In the United States, organic farming has been practiced since the late 1940s.

Over time, the industry grew from experimental garden plots to large farms.

Eventually, food manufacturers and chains began to sell “organic” products without verification.

As a result, the organic certification industry evolved.

Today, more than 40 private organizations and state agencies certify organic food.

However, it’s important to remember that their standards for both growing and labeling organic foods may differ.

The core differences are between permitting, the different pesticides or fertilizers permitted, and the language in approved seals, labels, and logos.

To help remedy the confusion these competing standards produced, the organic industry petitioned Congress to draft the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in the late 1980s.

This act defined “organic,” which helped standardize the production and certification of organic products. 

5. What are the benefits of organic farming?

There are countless benefits of organic farming if farmers are willing to put in the extra time, money, and effort required.

bulletIt prohibits the use of harmful pesticides

bulletIt maintains healthy soil by avoiding unnecessary chemicals

bulletIt reduces erosion because chemical fertilizers aren’t used which dry out the soil

bulletIt provides cleaner water

bulletIt limits non-renewable energy use

bulletIt discourages algae blooms which often result from chemical fertilizers

bulletIt stimulates biodiversity

6. What is the National Organic Program?

The National Organic Program (NOP) is part of the USDA’s marketing program that helps to set standards. Its goal is to…

bulletDevelop and implement national standards regarding the production of organic agriculture products

bulletFacilitate commerce in fresh and processed food that’s organically produced

bulletReassure consumers that products meet consistent standards

Per the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, the Secretary of Agriculture must establish a list of “allowed” and “prohibited” substances.

It identifies both synthetic substances that can be used as well as non-synthetic substances that cannot be used in organic production and handling operations.

7. Why farm organically?

If you’re searching “what is organic farming,” because you’re considering starting an organic farm or converting your conventional farm to an organic farm, then you may be wondering if it’s worth it to farm organically.

Here are the main reasons that farmers will convert.

bulletYou have concerns for the environment

bulletYou are concerned about working with the agricultural chemicals used in conventional agriculture

bulletYou have an issue with the amount of energy used in agriculture (many farm chemicals require energy-intensive manufacturing processes that rely on fossil fuels)

bulletYou are interested in a method of farming that is both profitable and personally rewarding

8. Why buy organic?

There are numerous reasons that consumers choose to purchase organic food.

Here are the top reasons that you may choose to buy organic rather than conventionally grown food.

bulletYou want to buy food that’s free of chemical pesticides or grown without conventional fertilizers

bulletYou want to try new or different food products to see which you like better

bulletYou want to see if organic food has an improved taste

bulletYou are concerned for the environment and want to protect it

bulletYou have the desire to avoid genetically engineered organisms

9. What is the organic transition period?

If you’re considering organic farming, you should be aware of the organic transition period which occurs in the first few years of organic farming.

According to the USDA’s land requirements, “The organic regulations state that any field or farm parcel, from which harvested crops are intended to be sold as organic, must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for a period of three years immediately preceding the harvest of the crop.”

This means that there is a transition period of 36 months prior to harvest.

Organic lands must be managed using organic practices, but you can’t sell anything that you’re making as organic.

During this time, both the soil and the manager (you) will be adjusting to the new organic system.

You may also see a change in the insect and weed populations throughout this period.

For many, this often creates a cash flow problem because products do not qualify as “premium,” and you’ll have an unstable nature of yields.

Thus, many farmers will choose to convert to organic production in stages.

Additionally, you may choose to grow crops at a low cost during this transition to help manage the additional risk.

If you’re considering the switch to organic farming, make sure to prepare a conversion plan.

Try to convert just 10 to 20 percent of your crops during the first year.

You should select one of your best fields to start and then expand once you feel comfortable.

You’ll begin to gain knowledge and confidence when your first field does well.

Keep in mind that it can take years to become totally organic.

This long-term approach is often more successful than rapid conversion, especially when financial constraints are present.

10. How much more is organic food than conventionally grown food?

The price of organic food is generally less than 10 percent below to more than 300 percent above that of conventionally grown produce.

This difference varies based on the product and season as well as the supply and demand.

11. Why is organic food so expensive?

If you’ve ever visited the grocery store and wondered why organic food is so much more expensive than “normal” or conventionally grown produce, the core reason is because of the USDA Organic certification standards.

These standards apply on the farm itself as well as during transportation and in production facilities.

Maintaining organic standards on a farm requires time, dedication, and money.

Here are some differences that you may see in an organic farm versus a non-organic farm that would prompt price differences.

On an organic farm…

bulletAll food provided to animals must be organic.

The food cannot be raised with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides like glyphosate or with GMOs.

In a true “you are what you eat” mentality, animals are provided with higher quality food, so they provide higher quality products in their final state.

bulletCows are required to be outside grazing fresh pasture for a certain number of days each year.

They then produce organic milk which leaves the farm and goes to a creamery.

At the creamery, it is inspected multiple times to ensure it meets organic standards.

bulletEvery truck and facility that is used in an organic farming system must meet organic certification standards.

This requires more effort and time.

bulletOften, organic farms are smaller than conventional farms which means more personal attention per animal.

bulletOrganic farms often work to pay their farmers a sustainable wage.

This means that they are compensating them more than conventional farms, and they aren’t treating their farm members as a place to cut costs to make a profit or lower costs.

While organic food could be cheaper if farms cut costs, this would endanger the ability to meet organic standards, treat the animals and farmers well, and ultimately risk bringing the quality down.

12. What factors are worth considering when establishing an organic farm?

More and more farmers are considering organic farming.

If you’re interested in establishing an organic farm, here are the factors most important to your success.

bulletLearning about organic farming basics

Farmers who wish to have successful organic farms must understand the basics of organic growing first.

This type of learning can be done in a variety of ways.

You can participate in organic farm training programs and farmer-meet-up symposiums.

If you’re a first-time organic farmer, consider finding a local organic farmer in your area and asking if you can shadow their work.

Having them provide first-hand experience and knowledge can give you a good lay of the land of basic management techniques.

bulletChoosing the right location for the organic farm

Choosing the right location is essential when considering the success of your organic farm.

Often, the location will give you an inherent advantage.

So, if you’re able to choose your farm’s location, it should be near a source of clear water to ease the irrigation process.

Additionally, the proximity of the farm to the marketplace should be another consideration.

This can play a role in the sustainability of the farm because being close to the market will make it easier to transport and sell the products to other farmers, individuals, or groups.

Furthermore, it’ll reduce the time and effort required by you to get products to people.

bulletProperly utilizing the land

Not all land is well-equipped to support every single crop.

Think about the land’s soil structure and moisture availability.

What plants should you choose to fit this?

You always want to select plants that grow well because of the landscape, temperature, elevation, and available resources rather than those that are facing resource deficits.

If you’re worried about a plant’s ability to survive, don’t be afraid to get creative.

There are plenty of alternative growing methods such as vertical gardening, container farming, intercropping, and more.

However, your priority should always be selecting plants that grow on the land as it currently exists.

You shouldn’t try to adapt the land to grow plants that you want to grow.

bulletKnowing about the organic market

Before you start an organic farm, you should research the market that you’re serving.

Depending on where you’re located, it may not be feasible to sell certain products.

Or there may be a certain product that’s already oversaturated in the market.

If you want to create a sustainable organic farm, you must discover the products that are most desired by consumers.

bulletPreparing the soil and compost correctly

Good soil quality is part of what sets organic farming apart.

You must learn about the type of soil that your land has and understand how to balance it to ensure the proper growth of plants.

Generally speaking, good organic soil is a mixture of compost, leaf and grass clippings, manure, and other compositions.

Organic farmers often make their own compost on-site.

Not only is this inexpensive to do, but it’s also quite easy.

By doing this, you’ll save water and help deter weeds.

bulletTaking care of plants properly

Don’t underestimate just how much work farming is.

Organic farming requires a lot of time, effort, and money.

Plants need a lot of care, and the process is quite lengthy for the grower.

Depending on the plant and farm conditions, you’ll need to implement organic farming techniques that will require dedication.

Also, keep in mind that you may need to play around with the techniques you use on your organic farm.

Not all farming techniques work for all plants.

You’ll also need to be extremely dedicated to watering your plants.

Most plants will need to be watered two to three times a day depending on their type and location.

Weeding is also a constant chore to ensure that your plants are competing with weeds for water or nutrients.

bulletNetworking in the organic farming community

If you’re planning to dive into organic farming, we applaud you!

Make sure you build a network around you to ensure you have the support you need.

Growing organic crops is rewarding, but it can also be physically and mentally exhausting.

We suggest you find some mentors and other figures of support in the farming community that you can lean on from time to time.

This will require networking, which can seem overwhelming at first.

However, it can be worth it in the long term to feel connected to those with similar goals.

Final Thoughts

What is organic farming?

It’s a method of producing crops through natural processes instead of relying on chemical-based pesticides and fertilizers.

Organic farmers produce the organic food that you see in the grocery store.

Not only is this method better for the environment, but it’s also arguably better for the animals, farmers and their employees, and people who consume it.

Additional Resources

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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants, or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.

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