Organic farming

Organic farming is different from conventional farming in several ways. Organic farmers typically cannot use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers on their crops. They cannot use genetically modified organisms, also known as GMOs.  The organic food industry makes up about 4% of the total food revenue in the United States.  

Because organic farmers cannot use most synthetic fertilizers, they must come up with other ways to ensure that their crops survive. Organic farmers can use compost to increase the nutrient content of the soil. They can also rotate crops between fields to allow the soil to rest between harvests, which can help with soil erosion, nitrogen levels, and can stop pest life cycles. For maintaining pest management, organic farmers use the ‘PAMS’ strategy.

The ‘PAMS’ strategy stands for: Prevention, Avoidance, Monitoring and Suppression.  The first method for getting rid of pests is to prevent it in the first place, and to avoid the pests, weeds, and disease if possible.  Organic farmers need to keep monitoring their fields, and if necessary they will suppress the unwanted pests.  This can be done through physical measures such as tilling, by approved pesticides, or the farmer can release other insects that will eat the pests, without harming the crop.

Organically farmed animals have to be fed organic feed and must be allowed to go outside.  During grazing season, grazing animals (cattle, sheep, etc.)  must have access to pasture. Any animal that has been treated with antibiotics or growth hormones cannot be considered certified organic.

If the farmer makes more than $5,000 per year from organic farming, he or she needs to have the farm certified by an agency approved by the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA). These agencies will visit a farm and make sure that all of the procedures there follow the USDA guidelines for organic food production.

In order to be efficient in their production without using antibiotics or growth hormones, a farmer needs to make sure his animals are fed well and are under as little stress as possible, as poor nutrition and stress can cause disease.  Since organic farmers must prevent disease before it arises, they rely heavily on genetics, to be sure they choose breeds that will thrive the most in that particular environment.

Featured Resource

Organic misconceptions

Are organic foods really healthier? Are organic foods "greener?" Click to learn more

Related video:

In this video, Dr. Paul Ebner from Purdue University explains how organic meat production works.

Follow Us