The public perception is that food grown organically is much healthier, and organic farming is more environmentally friendly. Organic agriculture differs significantly from conventional agriculture, which brings both advantages and disadvantages.
The disadvantages of organic farming are it is labor-intensive, sensitive to economic decline, requires more planning, and can’t benefit from synthetic chemicals. The advantages are that it is less susceptible to natural and financial risks, more efficient, sustainable, and environmentally friendly.
Producing food organically helps reduce greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide and methane, which have considerable environmental benefits. The produce is healthier for humans, and organic farming doesn’t threaten local ecosystems. However, organic farming has its disadvantages.
Disadvantages Of Organic Farming
One: Organically Farmed Produce Costs More
By not using pesticides and herbicides, organic farming is usually more labor-intensive, and the cost of organic feeds is higher too. The added cost gets passed on to the consumer, so organic foods tend to be more expensive. This is all good if the economy is strong and people have the money to pay a bit more to put organic foods on their table.
However, when the economy is weak and people are hard up for cash, they are less likely to pay more for organic produce and will buy cheaper products. Organic farming is more sustainable and efficient than conventional farming, but society must be willing and able to pay the higher price.
Two: Organic Farming Requires Well Designed Methods To Compete With Conventional Farming
An organic farmer who uses land previously conventionally farmed has to wait for three years before labeling his produce as organic. US law states that to qualify as organic, a crop must be produced on land which has not been exposed to synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides for three years before harvest. This means start-up costs can be higher for organic farmers.
Organic farmers must carefully plan crop rotation and optimal land utilization to manage weeds and pests since they cannot use chemicals. This means they must farm more strategically and may not produce the same crops year after year.
Organic farms have to use their available resources more efficiently and effectively and may have to create their own compost or organic fertilizers rather than buying chemical fertilizers.
Three: Organic Farming Requires A Buffer Zone With Neighboring Conventional Farms
Since many conventional farmers use crop dusting and spraying to apply herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers, they can contaminate adjacent organic farms. A buffer zone helps to reduce this possibility, but it can mean that the land on the edges of organic farms cannot be utilized for growing crops.
Critics have said that organic farms need more land to produce the same yields as conventional farms. Some research by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency seemed to support this, finding that organically farmed seed grass, potatoes, and sugar beets showed half the yield compared to the same sized area in conventional farms.
However, an analysis of two hundred and ninety-two studies that assessed the efficiency of organic and conventional farms showed that organic farms could produce enough food to sustain the global population. They could potentially feed an even larger population without increasing the amount of available agricultural land.
A twenty-year study conducted by Cornell University in Pennsylvania in the US found that the productivity of organic fields was similar to conventional fields and at the same time caused less environmental pollution and reductions in the use of fossil fuels.
The higher labor costs on the organic farms were offset by the higher prices fetched by their produce in the markets, and organic farmers had good returns.
Four: Organic Farming Is Generally More Labor Intensive
Organic farming is hard work and requires more human physical labor than conventional farming. The larger the area to be cultivated, the more laborers are needed. They have to be accommodated, fed and provided with a certain level of health care.
These workers also have to be organized and supervised to maintain organic farming standards.
Organic farmers have to take good care of the land by managing soil fertility only with animal and other organic waste fertilizers, crop rotation, specific cultivation methods, and cover crops. They must control pests, diseases, and weeds with physical, mechanical, and biological processes as they can’t use chemicals.
To keep livestock healthy, they can only use vaccines, and vitamin and mineral supplemented feeds. Unlike conventional farmers, organic farmers are not allowed to use non-therapeutic antibiotics to promote the growth of livestock and improve yields.
To be certified organic, they have to pay a fee and pass a test. Organic farmers also have to keep meticulous records of their farming and cultivation methods because annual inspections for compliance with organic standards are conducted through the National Organic Program in the US.
Five: Organic Farmers Can’t Use Growth Hormone To Increase Milk Production
Growth Hormone increases milk production in cows, which means fewer cows are needed to produce the same amount of milk. Fewer cows mean less manure which generates fewer greenhouse gases and requires less cultivated land to grow cattle feed.
Scientists say that Growth Hormone is destroyed by gastric acids and isn’t absorbed by the stomach, so it doesn’t pose a risk to humans who drink cows’ milk or eat beef. In any event, ninety percent of the Growth Hormone in milk is destroyed by pasteurization. They say there is no evidence that Growth Hormone alters the composition of milk in terms of it fat, protein and lactose content.
US law does not allow organic farmers to employ Growth Hormone, so they cannot improve yields by using it.
Six Advantages Of Organic Farming
One: Organic Farmers Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
It takes significant quantities of fossil fuel to manufacture the synthetic fertilizers used by conventional farmers. These fuels release greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide and methane into the atmosphere, which promote climate change.
Conventional farming produces forty percent more greenhouse gases than organic farming, even though the crop yields are comparable.
Two: Organic Farming Is More Environmentally Friendly
Organic farmers use compost and organic waste instead of chemical fertilizers. Conventional agriculture uses pesticides and herbicides to control insects and weeds, while organic farmers avoid these by using birds, friendly insects, and traps to control insect pests.
Chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides utilized in conventional farming threaten natural ecosystems by polluting rivers and streams and harming fish, birds, and other animals in the environment.
The waste and compost used by organic farmers break down quickly and don’t build up in soil and water systems. Conventional farmers use seeds treated with insecticides, while organic farmers don’t. Many insecticides are known carcinogens that cause cancer in humans.
Conventional farming uses around twenty-five percent of the world’s chemical insecticides. They kill not only insect pests but other beneficial insects like bees, ladybugs, and other bugs that prey on pests. Organic farmers don’t use them, preferring natural methods like traps to discourage and manage insect pests.
At harvest time, crops are defoliated by conventional farmers using chemicals, while organic farmers use the seasons to defoliate plants naturally.
Three: Organic Farming is More Sustainable
Organic farming methods improve the quality of the soil by adding organic matter to it. Therefore, the earth is not depleted of natural nutrients as it is by conventional farming methods.
Organic farms are better at sustaining diversity in local ecosystems. Organically managed soil has been shown to have higher water retention, which offers an advantage over conventional farms in dry years or drought.
Four: Organic Farming Is More Energy Efficient
Research has shown that organic farming uses forty-five percent less energy than conventional farming. Conventional farmers use automated irrigation systems that pump water to the crops.
These irrigation systems are intensive and waste a lot of water. Organic farmers use rainwater which the soil retains better and reduces irrigation requirements.
Five: Organic Farmers Don’t Use Non-Therapeutic Antibiotics and Growth Hormones
There is a significant worldwide problem with bacterial resistance to many antibiotics. This is not only due to overprescribing by medical professionals but also because the meat people eat contains antibiotics used to prevent bacterial diseases and thereby promote growth in livestock.
Conventional farmers also use Growth Hormone to reduce the time from field to table, but people don’t like the idea of consuming it in their food. In the US, organic farmers cannot use non-therapeutic antibiotics and growth hormones in livestock.
Six: Established Organic Farmers Are Less Vulnerable To Risks
Organic farming requires more crop diversification due to its land management techniques. This makes established organic farmers less susceptible to natural and economic risks than conventional farmers specializing in the same one or two crops year after year.
Economics experts have said that future trends in commodity prices, pollution regulation, and input prices will have mixed effects on organic and conventional farming, but the net impact is likely to favor organic farmers.
The advantages of organic farming seem to outweigh the disadvantages, especially in the long term when environmental impact and human health are taken into account. A well-planned and thoughtfully designed organic farm may cost more to run, but there are efficiency gains and greater profits to be made from selling organic produce.