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Why organic farming is better for the environment and how we can help

Rebecca Harvie

Organic farming is the practice of farming without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers and genetically modified organisms. Instead of synthetic additives, organic farms rely on manure, compost and bone meal as a fertilizer. On a commercial and personal scale, organic farming has many benefits in comparison to conventional farming. Organic pulses, oils and fruits have less carbon emissions than their conventional counterparts and use less overall energy. Home and community scale organic gardening has wide-ranging environmental benefits and it’s as easy as starting in your own backyard. Below are the main reasons why organic farming is so necessary to protect our environment.

organic farming

 

Biodiversity 

The lack of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers in organic crops is a key factor in retaining biodiversity. Native flora and fauna such as bees, butterflies, worms, beetles, plant life, mammals and soil microbes greatly diminish with the introduction of pesticides and fertilisers. Weeds that would otherwise attract beneficial insects are eradicated with conventional practices, and migratory species that rely on plant life see a halt in their population numbers. Organic farming allows beneficial organisms, wild flora and fauna and pest predators to flourish which creates an extremely biodiverse environment. Biodiversity in Ecosystems studies indicate that organic farms have a 30% increase in species biodiversity, and a 50% increase of beneficial microorganisms than conventional farms[1]. Without consideration of our native wildlife, species that would otherwise thrive have been driven to extinction.

Soil structure and carbon impacts 

Organic farming relies on minimum tillage practices that help to maintain soil structure. Frequently adding compost and manure increases the soil organic matter and earthworm activity which is vital for water retention and soil fertility. This not only allows for nutrient and water storage, it plays a massive role in carbon sequestering which directly impacts our fight against climate change[2]. Studies show that organic legumes and fruits have the highest ability to sequester carbon than any other crop [3]. This is important as agriculture and land use contributes to 25% of global CO2 emissions.

Water pollution and run off

Water pollution from pesticide, herbicide and synthetic fertilisers is caused when the water runs into nearby creeks and streams. This has a large impact on fish, other marine species and migratory mammals. Polluted water can also seep into the ground and create dead zones near industrial farms; this is most notable in the Gulf of Mexico where a dead zone spans over 14,000 square kilometers[4]. Water pollution also causes problems for humans as it taints drinking water with a foul taste that can cause fatal disease in infants[5]. Organic farming uses compost and manure which enhances the soil structure of nearby land and improves water filtration. The Rodale Institute has found that organic fields hold more water during droughts and continue to improve the growth of plants with high levels of microorganisms, whereas the conventional method of farming sees a declining soil health and water retention [6]. Healthy watersheds are also important as we look to the future as this is where we get our water supply, and organic practices ensure the water retention and health of the soil. This is vital, as conventional practices have caused the degradation of 40% of watersheds worldwide[7].

Phosphorous, Nitrogen and Potassium 

There is another problem with conventional farming; conventional farming relies on the use of phospherous, nitrogen and potassium that is shipped to crops across the world. Phosphorous is a finite resource and requires significant energy to mine and distribute. Australia purchases approximately 400,000 tonnes of phosphorous, 200,000 tonnes of potassium and 1 million tonnes of nitrogen per year[8]. Phosphorous also requires additional energy expenditure as it contains heavy metals that are toxic to humans and soil. This has massive impacts on our climate footprint and our future food security.

Organic Gardening     

All of these factors are so important when considering the impact we have on the produce we grow and buy. Organic gardens also have the added benefit of not wasting any food – simply throw your scraps and unused food into a compost bin and it can be spread in your garden for optimal plant growth. The Australian Government states that each person in Australia wastes 300kg of food per year, and food waste accounts for a whopping 5% of annual greenhouse gas emissions[9]. This is huge. Less reliance on conventionally farmed foods and the packaging that comes with it will positively influence our environment. Throwing away the synthetic fertilisers and replacing them with compost is a goal everyone can reach to help our environment.

Sources   

[1] https://www.intechopen.com/books/biodiversity-in-ecosystems-linking-structure-and-function/impact-of-organic-farming-on-biodiversity
[2] Effects of organic versus conventional arable farming on soil structure and organic matter dynamics in a marine loam in the Netherlands. Doi: 10.1079
[3] https://ourworldindata.org/is-organic-agriculture-better-for-the-environment?fbclid=IwAR3svMzwU1hYPxIuMOiccAUMBOIM4zdB2BOCAJ7ia0epKZ5cuima3GnSeJM
[4] https://rodaleinstitute.org/why-organic/issues-and-priorities/water-pollution/
[5] http://psep.cce.cornell.edu/facts-slides-self/facts/nit-heef-grw85.aspx
[6] https://rodaleinstitute.org/science/farming-systems-trial/
[7] https://www.naturespath.com/en-us/blog/how-organic-farming-protects-and-conserves-clean-water/
[8] https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2013/04/01/phosphorus-essential-to-life-are-we-running-out/
[9] https://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/food-waste

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