Organic Farming Guide:
What is Organic Farming?
Organic farming is a form of agriculture production techniques where plants and animals are grown in a natural way which means growing food in harmony with nature. This process involves avoiding the use of synthetic materials but using biological materials which are available in the natural habitat in growing crops and animal husbandry. In other words it’s a science of using natural techniques in growing crops and livestock without harming the natural environment.
It is integrating the modern farming technology with traditional farming methods of past which are still useful today. Organic farming system rely upon using of animal waste, green manures, crop residue, rotation of crops, organic wastes, bio fertilizers, vermicompost, and bio pest controllers to maintain the soil health and productivity, supplementing plant nutrients, and controlling insects, pests, and weeds. In contrast to modern agriculture, organic farming avoids using of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, growth promoters or regulators, and livestock feed additives.
The methods used in organic farming makes the soil self-sufficient while increasing farm productivity and repairs the abused farm fields and lands by massive usage of chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides in agriculture sector. Many of the farmers who did not follow nature’s holistic farming ways have decreased soil fertility, loss of topsoil, water contamination on both ground and surface and loss of genetic diversity.
Why choose Organic Farming or Agriculture
The basic principal of organic farming is to support the general idea that the soil, plants, animals and man are connected. The role of organic farming in agriculture practices to sustain and enhance the health of both land and environment from smallest organisms in the soil to the top most in the food chain. It must conduct and balance natural and environmental resources for production and consumption in all fairness to human beings and to all living beings in their natural behavior and well-being. Precaution, care and responsibility are the key concerns to ensure for healthy, safe and ecologically sound organic practices are passed for the future generations.
The important role of organic farming is to contribute successful management of agricultural resources and enhancement of sustainability. There must be a balance to satisfy human needs through agricultural resources while at the same time preserving natural resources for the future. Many organic farms have produced higher yields than conventional farming methods. Soil health in the organic farms has significant rates of nitrogen, minerals, nutrients, and microbial abundance and diversity are found. The following are the organic farmer’s methods in utilizing materials.
- Preserve and build good soil structure and fertility by recycling and composting crop wastes and animal manures.
- Encouraging polyculture against monoculture cultivation. Farming a single crop may reduce cost on fertilizers, seeds and pesticides but on a long run creates problem such as reduction in soil fertility and soil erosion. Whereas in monoculture, growing variety of crops attract different soil microbes and certain crops act as pest repellant.
- Mixed farming of crop and livestock production.
- Control pests, weeds and diseases through careful planning and crop choice. Use natural pesticides and allowing useful predators that eat pests.
- Help in careful use of water resources.
- Good animal husbandry.
Methods of Organic Farming
Growing crops by using eco-friendly methods and avoiding man made farming products such as chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides and insecticides, growth regulators and genetic modification of crop species is the best farming practice.
Simple eco-friendly farming methods use various traditional agriculture practices using of compost fertilizers, mixed farming, crop rotation, biological pest control, minimum tillage. The use of these methods will enhance the crop productivity without synthetic materials and a sustainable farming approach.
Following are the methods practiced in organic farming.
- Soil fertility in organic farming systemsrely on the management of soil organic matter. To optimize crop production the soil organic matter is to be enhanced in chemical, biological and soil physical properties. Farmers test soils at most testing labs to fertilize the crop but not the soil. Farmer must learn to feed the soil in turn the soil will feed the crop. Living microbes and other organisms are the contributors to soil fertility on a sustained basis. They conserve the fertility and top soil erosion by implementing appropriate conservation practices. Soil fertility can be boosted by incorporating old decomposed farm yard manure, composts and legumes. Soils health can be measured by its aggregate stability (tilth), water retention capacity, drainage, porosity, bulk density, resistance to crusting and compaction.
- Crop diversity through crop rotation is growing of variety of crops in same land also called polyculture. An organic farmer must understand crop variety and its specific needs such as type of soils, rainfall, climatic conditions, and growing duration. Crop rotation build better soil, control pests, and gives farm profits. A farmer has to include cash crops, filler crops, and cover crops in a season through crop rotation. Crops must be grown in a specific order over a time and the cycle will be repeated over a period of years.Crop diversity through deliberate crop rotation prevents the buildup of pest population by interrupting pest habitats and its life cycle. Farm land or farm beds may be rotated for weed or pest control and sometimes by land tillage.
- Nutrient management in organic farming is one of the important key factors in crop production. Farmer must understand soil is a living system and agricultural productivity is directly dependent on soil fertility. The soil surrounding the root zones in which bacterial grow must be stimulated, these microbes or microorganisms in their turn supply nutrients to the roots. Crop production and nutrient cycles must be balanced as soil health is exploited by cultivation which leads to soil degradation through nutrient depletion. On a long term planning avoid chemical fertilizers, growth boosters but by using organic manures, bio fertilizers, and compost.
Farmers must learn to rely on long term soil quality for productivity of fields than relying on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The organic sources add different nutrients to the soils while resists soil erosion, and holds water. Plants that need some natural minerals to grow can also be added. Soil pH balance can be maintained by adding lime. There are different ways to increase soil nutrients.
- Organic manures: Farmyard manure is naturally available organic manure. It is a mixture of animal excreta, leaves, straw, and grass. Poultry manure is also one of the extremely valuable organic manure rich in phosphorus. The collected animal waste must be stored in aerobic conditions till the manure shows a brown to black colour.
- Bio fertilizers: Is a substance that contains living microorganisms that colonizes at the root zone or rhizoshpere by increasing supply of nutrients in the soil. There are different types of biofertilizers available such as Rhizobium, Azotobacter, Azospirillum, Cyanobacteria, Plant growth promoting rhizobacteria, Phosphorus-solubilizing bacteria (PSB), Mycorrhizal fungi, Blue green algae (BGA), and Azolla.
- Mineral Fertilizer:Are used as supplement to organic manures. They control the soil pH, soil salinity and must be used as recommended after soil test. Mineral fertilizers are based on ground natural rock. They can be obtained from stone powder, rock phosphate, lime, and plant ashes.
- Composting:This is a process of recycling decomposing of organic materials such as crop residue, plants, leaves, twigs into a rich soil. By composting once any living thing, organic waste returns back into soil delivering nutrients completing a cycle of life to continue.
There are three types of composting:
- Backyard composting.
- Worm composting.
- Grass cycling.
- Green manures:Using of green plant tissues to improve the soil fertility and physical structure by incorporating them into soil. The important aspect of green manuring is enriching soil with undecomposed organic matter into the soil. This can be done in two ways. Firstly by growing manure crops belonging to leguminous family and secondly by collecting twigs with green leaf from wastelands. Some of the important green manure crops are sunnhemp, urd, dhaincha, cowpea, sesbaniarostrata, mung, cluster beans, shervi, and pillipesara.
Managing Weeds in organic farming
Weed management is one of the major issues in organic farming. The important factors know about its reproduction and disposal strategies in determining their spread and to control. Weeds are unwanted plants having heavy seeding perennials with persistent underground parts such as stolons and rhizomes becoming a problematic in farm production. While some of the heavy seeding annuals may be effectively controlled by avoiding favourable weed germination and growth conditions. Much of the weed controlling is done by manual mowing, discing, plowing or hand pulling of weeds as in organic farming chemical herbicides is avoided. The other practices to control weeds include tillage, flooding, mulching or by restricting water supply through drip irrigation.
Mulching in Organic farming
Mulching is a process to cover the surface of the soil with any decomposable materials such as straws, hay, leaves, crop residues, grass etc. Mulching controls the soil moisture, temperature which enhances the activity of earthworms and other soil organisms. Earthworms help creating small and large pores in the soil structure that lets aeration and water in the soil. Mulch suppress growth of weed and decomposed mulch will add nutrients to the soil.
Pest and Disease management in organic farming
Pests and diseases are major factors effecting the production and quality of the crop yield. In conventional method of farming there are many chemicals readily available in controlling while in organic farming there are many long term activities in preventing pests and diseases. It is more important to control than treating the crop problems, in organic farming preventive practices play a major role apart from control practices by using mechanical control and natural pesticides. Plants that are healthy are less vulnerable to pest and disease infestation, a farmer has to create conditions that will keep the plants healthy such as,
- Plants must not be exposed to too much or too less sunlight.
- Plants must not be exposed to low or strong heat and temperature.
- Plants must not be exposed to less irrigation or water logging.
- Plants must not be exposed to excess nutrients or nutrient deficiency.
Prevention practices must be followed to keep the plants healthy. A farmer must have enough knowledge about pests, diseases to choose effective preventive measures. To protect crop suitable combination of different methods at the right time must be under taken. Some of the important preventive measures are given below:
- Choose right cultivars which are disease resistant and well adapted to local climatic conditions.
- Choose seeds that are clean and safe from pathogens and weeds.
- Mixed farming or polyculture will limit pest and disease.
- Practice moderate and balanced field nutrient management.
- Apply suitable soil cultivation methods.
- Proper irrigation management ensures no water logging.
- Promote natural enemies by providing natural habitat.
- Planting at optimum time and spacing.
- Proper disposal measures of infected plant parts and residue from field without spreading.
Livestock in organic farming
Organic farming encourages keeping farm animals as part of the farming system to increase sustainability of the farm. Farming system depends on the internal flow of nutrients to the soil from animal waste there by producing crops and the crop residue is available as feed to the livestock in the farm thereby forming a cycle. Therefore, the waste product of one becomes a resource for the other. Farmers must have sufficient information and knowledge about the integration of crops and livestock which will be economically and environmentally sustainable allowing the maximum use of available resources over a long period.
Genetic Modification in organic farming
Genetically modified crops or plants have high resistance to disease and high yields by altering their DNA. There is a risk on consuming genetically modified foods both human health and to our environment. Organic farming keeps away this kind of agriculture techniques and focuses on using natural ways by discouraging genetically modified livestock and crops.
Advantages of Organic farming
- Organic manures and compost instill soil health thereby increasing quality and crop yield.
- The supply of nutrients and micronutrients to the soil are optimum.
- It reducesagriculture procuring cost needs.
- Organic farming helps in preventing the environment damage and degradation of the soil.
- Organically grown plants are more resistant to pests and diseases.
- Organic manures are mostly the byproducts of animals and plants.
- Biological diversity in organic farming produces crop yields, milk, eggs, and meat.
- Slows down global warming and fewer residues in food.
- Fruits and vegetables produced organically have good flavor with rich nutrition values.
Disadvantages in Organic farming
- More manual work or labor is required to carry the hard work for successful production.
- Organic products are more expensive in the market.
- Marketing of organic products under certification is very expensive.
- The biggest disadvantage in organic farming method is time consuming.
- Farmer must have proper knowledge and skill in choosing alternative of chemicals.
Conclusion in organic farming
Organic farming or organic agriculture strengthens the natural resource base and sustains biological production and improving the agro eco-system. Production levels in organic farming compared to conventional methods is less, so in a country like India organic produce cannot meet food demand. It remains a hill sum task in Indian farming to meet production levels of organic products. To meet the food demand in the present times, farming coupled with organic resources with minimal use of pesticides and judicious use of farming inputs may be better option for now than pure organic farming in India.