Organic farming is the form of agriculture that relies on techniques such as crop rotation, green manure, compost and biological pest control. Organic farming uses fertilizers and pesticides but excludes or strictly limits the use of manufactured(synthetic) fertilizers, pesticides (which include herbicides, insecticides and fungicides).
But organic farming is also part of a larger supply chain, which encompasses food processing, distribution and retailing sectors and, ultimately, you. Each link in this supply chain is designed to play an important role in delivering the benefits associated with organic food production across a wide range of areas detailed elsewhere on this website, including:
Society and economy
So every time you buy an organic apple from your local supermarket, or choose a wine made from organic grapes from the menu at your favourite restaurant, you can be sure they were produced according to strict rules aimed at respecting the environment and animals.
Organic production has been practiced in the United States since the late 1940s. From that time, the industry has grown from experimental garden plots to large farms with surplus products sold under a special organic label. Food manufacturers have developed organic processed products and many retail marketing chains specialize in the sale of "organic" products. This growth stimulated a need for verification that products are indeed produced according to certain standards. Thus, the organic certification industry also evolved.
National organic standards require that organic growers and handlers be certified by third-party state or private agencies or other organizations that are accredited by USDA. Although farmers and handlers who sell less than $5,000 a year in organic agricultural products and retailers that do not process these products are exempt from certification, they must meet all certified organic grower and handler requirements to maintain the organic integrity of the organic products they sell. Anyone who knowingly sells or mislabels as organic a product that was not produced and handled in accordance with the regulations can be subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation.
Organic Agriculture has well established practices that simultaneously mitigate climate change, build resilient farming systems, reduce poverty and improve food security. Organic Agriculture emits much lower levels of greenhouse gases (GHG), and quickly, affordably and effectively sequesters carbon in the soil. In addition, Organic Agriculture makes farms and people more resilient to climate change, mainly due to its water efficiency, resilience to extreme weather events and lower risk of complete crop failure.
Organically-grown fruits and vegetables obtain their nutrients from healthy soils, rather than synthetic fertilizers. They are lower in water content, thus reserving a higher nutrient density, they are richer in iron, magnesium, vitamin C, and antioxidants, and they provide a more balanced combination of essential amino acids.
Organic agriculture enhances soil structures, conserves water, mitigates climate change, and ensures sustained biodiversity. Through its holistic nature, organic farming integrates wild biodiversity, agro-biodiversity and soil conservation, and takes low-intensity farming one step further by eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which is not only an improvement for human health (food quality) and agrobiodiversity, but also for the associated off farm biotic communities.
Organic farming entails:
Use of cover crops, green manures, animal manures and crop rotations to fertilize the soil, maximize biological activity and maintain long-term soil health.
Use of biological control, crop rotations and other techniques to manage weeds, insects and diseases.
An emphasis on biodiversity of the agricultural system and the surrounding environment.
Using rotational grazing and mixed forage pastures for livestock operations and alternative health care for animal wellbeing.
Reduction of external and off-farm inputs and elimination of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and other materials, such as hormones and antibiotics.
A focus on renewable resources, soil and water conservation, and management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological balance.”
The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990, adopted as part of the 1990 Farm Bill, requires the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop national standards for organically produced agricultural products to assure consumers that agricultural products marketed as organic meet consistent, uniform standards. The Act also requires USDA to establish an organic certification program based on recommendations of a 15-member National Organic Standards Board. In addition to the Board's recommendations, USDA reviewed state, private, and foreign organic certification programs to help formulate the final organic regulations.
The NOP rule prohibits the use of genetic engineering (included in the list of excluded methods), ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge. The rule includes the following:
Production and handling requirements, which address organic crop production, wild crop harvesting, organic livestock management, and processing and handling of organic agricultural products
The National List of Allowed Synthetic and Prohibited Non-Synthetic Substances (7 CFR 205.600-205.606)
Labeling requirements for organic products
Compliance, testing, fee, and state program approval requirements
Certification and recordkeeping requirements
Accreditation requirements for receiving and maintaining accreditation, as well as requirements for foreign accreditation
Other administrative functions of the National Organic Program, which include evaluation of foreign organic certification programs.
The National Organic Program (NOP) is a marketing program housed within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service, the agency that sets marketing standards. The NOP mission is to develop and implement national standards that govern the marketing of agricultural products as organically produced, to facilitate commerce in fresh and processed food that is organically produced, and to assure consumers that such products meet consistent standards.
The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 requires the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances which identifies synthetic substances that may be used, and the nonsynthetic substances that cannot be used, in organic production and handling operations.