Organic farming is a term that means different things to different people. Some may consider it to be the same as other forms of natural farming; including: biological farming, sustainable agriculture, alternative agriculture, or permaculture. There may be subtle differences in emphasis between these various concepts, but they also share a great deal in common.
Definitions of what is or is not 'organic', can be variable. Some of the most important features of organic production (according to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM - Organics International)), are:
- Promoting existing biological cycles, from micro-organisms in the soil to the plants and animals living on the soil.
- Maintaining the environmental resources locally, using them carefully and efficiently and re-using materials as much as possible.
- Not relying heavily on external resources on a continuous basis.
- Minimising any pollution both on-site and leaving the site.
- Maintaining the genetic diversity of the area.
Practices which are typical for organic systems are composting, inter-cropping, crop rotation and mechanical or heat-based weed control. Pests and diseases are tackled with naturally-produced sprays and biological controls (e.g. predatory mites).
Organic farmers generally avoid the use of inorganic (soluble) fertilisers and synthetic chemical herbicides, growth hormones and pesticides.
One of the foundations of organic farming, linking many other principles together, is composting. By skilfully combining different materials, balancing carbon and nitrogen levels, coarse and fine ingredients, bacteria and worms act to break down the waste products. Composting produces a valuable fertiliser that can be returned to the soil. Natural biological cycles are promoted, 'wastes' are re-used and the need for external supplies of fertiliser are reduced or cut altogether. This creates a sustainable and more fertile environment for both animal and plant life.
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