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Panday, D.; Bhusal, N.; Das, S.; Ghalehgolabbehbahani, A. Benefits of Organic Farming. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/55482 (accessed on 16 April 2024).
Panday D, Bhusal N, Das S, Ghalehgolabbehbahani A. Benefits of Organic Farming. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/55482. Accessed April 16, 2024.
Panday, Dinesh, Nikita Bhusal, Saurav Das, Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani. "Benefits of Organic Farming" Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/55482 (accessed April 16, 2024).
Panday, D., Bhusal, N., Das, S., & Ghalehgolabbehbahani, A. (2024, February 26). Benefits of Organic Farming. In Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/55482
Panday, Dinesh, et al. "Benefits of Organic Farming." Encyclopedia. Web. 26 February, 2024.
Benefits of Organic Farming
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Organic farming, which is deeply rooted in traditional agricultural practices, has witnessed a profound evolution over the last century. Transitioning from a grassroots initiative resisting the industrialization of agriculture to a global industry, organic farming now plays a pivotal role in addressing contemporary challenges related to environmental health, sustainability, and food safety. 

organic farming Organic Materials Review Institute organic fertilizers regenerative agriculture

1. Introduction

Organic production systems integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices to promote the cycling of resources, ecological balance, and biodiversity conservation. With rising environmental concerns and health awareness, there is a surge in consumer demand for fresh organic products. This demand is evident as organic fruit and vegetable sales in the United States account for 15% of all retail produce sales, with USD 60 billion in revenue generated in 2022 [1]. Studies suggest that nature-friendly organic farming systems prove more lucrative for farmers than their chemically intensive counterparts [2][3]. This profitability arises because organic farmers predominantly rely on ecosystem services to achieve high crop yields, whereas conventional farmers rely heavily on external inputs [4][5]. Premium prices on organic food are another aspect of higher benefits that can compensate for the lower yields, yet the consumer impact remains a subject of debate. Despite its popularity and profitability, organic farming is not without challenges. Farmers must grapple with issues like organic nutrient sourcing, limited nutrient contents of organic fertilizers, insect pests, and pathogens and require extensive knowledge in crop and soil management [6].
The organic production system relies on organic fertilizers. Huntley et al. (1997) defined organic fertilizers as naturally occurring mineral sources that undergo minimal human intervention, mainly through physical extraction [7]. They can be broadly categorized into mineral and rock products, animal products, and plant products. However, they often release nutrients slowly, and their nutrient availability can be unpredictable. For instance, composted organic materials only release 1–3% of their total nitrogen (N) annually [8]. To address these concerns, the market now offers a variety of organic substrates and commercial fast-releasing organic fertilizers. Vermicompost, for instance, provides higher nutrient levels than traditional compost [9]. Commercial organic fertilizers are available in dry (e.g., bone meal, blood meal) and liquid (e.g., fish emulsion, seaweed extract) forms, each providing specific nutrients essential for plant growth. Notably, many of these products are byproducts of various industries such as fisheries, livestock, and food processing and can help in establishing a circular economy [10].
The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) assesses products for compliance with the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). As of 2023, 4101 OMRI-listed products fall under the category of Crop Fertilizers and Soil Amendments across 190 different product categories. Organic fertilizers are rich in macronutrients, micronutrients, and growth-promoting substances. Their addition to soil not only nourishes plants but also improves nutrient cycling [11]. Nonetheless, there is a noticeable gap in farmers’ understanding of these products, encompassing aspects like their selection, cost, availability, scalability, and, to a certain extent, the anticipated impact on crop yield.

2. Historical Development

Organic farming, which is often perceived as a contemporary movement, possesses historical roots deeply embedded in ancient agricultural practices. Before the 20th century’s agricultural revolution, many farming methodologies inherently aligned with what we understand as “organic” today. Traditional agricultural practices naturally adhered to organic methods since synthetic chemicals and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) had not been developed [12]. However, the scene shifted dramatically with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the Green Revolution in the 20th century. The introduction of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and modern mechanization marked a significant departure from these age-old practices [13].
By the 1920s and 1950s, concerns were rising regarding the excessive industrialization of agriculture. Visionaries like Sir Albert Howard, Lady Eve Balfour, and J.I. Rodale began championing a return to more natural farming methods [14][15][16]. Their pioneering work laid the groundwork for the modern organic movement, underscoring the importance of soil health, the virtues of natural pest control, and the potential perils of synthetic chemicals.
In the following years, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, there was a growing awareness of environmental issues. This was, in part, propelled by seminal publications like Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring[17]. Silent Spring highlights the environmental and health effects of pesticides and symbolizes a distant future spring, where there will be no birds’ songs. Following this, the era observed the establishment of the first formal organic certification systems and the rise of organic farming associations [18]. Organic farming transitioned from traditional practices to being recognized as a viable, sustainable alternative to conventional farming [18].
As we approached the late 20th century and early 21st century, organic farming began gaining acceptance in mainstream society. The health and ecological benefits of organic produce started gaining broader acknowledgment [19]. In 2002, a pivotal development took place when the USDA rolled out the National Organic Program (NOP), instituting federal standards for organic production in the United States. This trend was not limited to the United States; numerous other nations rolled out similar national guidelines during this period [20]. For example, five national organizations, including the Rodale Institute, came together to form an international organization in 1972, known as the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), to coordinate their actions as well as to enable scientific and experimental data on organic to cross borders [21].
On the global stage, organic farming witnessed exponential growth, with countries like India and China and numerous African nations recording substantial upticks [22]. The organic market evolved, diversifying its offerings, which now span from staple produce to processed foods, textiles, cosmetics, and beyond. As the global trade of organic products intensified, discussions about harmonizing organic regulations between countries took center stage [21].
Nevertheless, organic farming is not without its challenges and critiques. As the organic sector flourished, it struggled with issues related to scalability, certification, and upholding the ethos of organic integrity [23]. Looking forward, there is a noticeable transition towards “beyond organic” or “regenerative” agricultural practices. These methods not only avoid synthetic inputs but also actively champion soil health, biodiversity, and holistic ecosystem rejuvenation [24]. As challenges like climate change and global food security, the merits of organic and sustainable farming practices are becoming more apparent [25]. Regenerative organic farming is a holistic approach. A 40-year period long-term Farming Systems Trial (FST) conducted by Rodale Institute has shown how regenerative organic agriculture outperforms conventional grain cropping systems during times of extreme weather, where corn yield was 31% higher in organic than in conventional during droughts [26].
Over the past century, organic farming has metamorphosed from a niche movement to a global industry. Despite facing its share of challenges and critiques, its foundational principles—environmental well-being, sustainability, and natural production—continue to wield influence and are progressively shaping the discourse on the future of agriculture [27].

3. Trends in Development

Over the past two decades, there has been a marked rise in the number of organic farms and land under organic cultivation (Figure 1). This trend is evident globally, from North America to Europe to Asia. For instance, in the United States, organic food sales have witnessed consistent growth, with organic fruits and vegetables sharing a significant market share. Similarly, European countries like Germany and France have seen an uptick in organic agricultural practices and consumer demand [28].
Regions in Australia and parts of Asia are also embracing organic agriculture, driven by both production and consumption incentives. This global inclination towards organic farming stems from a confluence of factors, including heightened consumer awareness about food safety and health, concerns over environmental impacts, and the long-term economic promise of organic farming. According to a recent report published by IFOAM and FiBL, there were more than 74.9 million hectares of organic farmland globally in 2019, which is 1.6% of the total farmland [29], and which increased to 76.4 in 2021 (Figure 1). Trend analysis with data from 1999 to 2021 showed a gradual increase in the sales of organic food and the area of acreage under organic farming, with an annual increase of USD 5 billion in sales and an annual increase of 2.9 million hectares of land dedicated to organic farming each year (Figure 1). Worldwide, 191 countries practice organic agriculture with 2.8 million organic producers, and 1.6% of the world’s agricultural land is farmed organically. In the USA, there was a 36% increase in certified organic farms between 2015 and 2021 [30].
Figure 1. Global trends (linear regression) in organic food sales and the total area of acreage increase from 1999 to 2021. Here, sales are represented as billions in USD (B) and area is represented as millions of hectares (M ha). The coefficient of determination (R2), regression equation (y), and p-value are indicated. Data source: Statista, 2023; Willer and Lernoud, 2019 [29][31].

4. Benefits of Organic Farming

4.1. Environmental Benefits

Organic farming, with its foundation in ecologically balanced agricultural principles, presents a myriad of environmental benefits. By avoiding synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, organic farms significantly reduce the likelihood of groundwater contamination. For instance, a comprehensive study in Europe found that areas with intensive organic farming had 40% less nitrate in groundwater compared to conventional farming regions [32]. Organically managed soils show a higher water-holding capacity and infiltration rate due to their higher organic matter content [33][34]. Furthermore, by prioritizing soil health through practices like crop rotation and green manuring, organic farming not only augments soil fertility but also improves biodiversity. A meta-analysis revealed that organic farms, on average, support more plant, insect, and animal species than conventional farms [35]. Such practices also play a pivotal role in attenuating soil erosion, with some estimates suggesting that soil erosion potential can be reduced by over 61% with organic practices [36][37]. Land management with organic manure can increase soil organic matter [38]. Agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, emitting around 22% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG). Organic management has shown reductions in total GHG emissions per unit area [3].

4.2. Economic Benefits

While facing the initial financial challenges remains in transitioning to organic farming, the long-term economic prospects are promising. Organic products consistently command premium prices often between 20 and 30% higher than their conventional counterparts. By eliminating the recurring costs associated with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, organic farms can also achieve substantial savings eventually. Furthermore, the “organic” label offers a competitive edge in the market. For example, the global organic food market size was valued at approximately USD 208.2 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.7% from 2023 to 2030 [39]. Organic systems also have higher socio-ecological resilience than conventional systems owing to its diverse mixed farming approach, which can minimize risk by reducing the economic dependence on a single crop [3].

4.3. Health Benefits

Organic foods, which are produced devoid of synthetic pesticides and genetically modified organisms, cater to the escalating consumer inclination for natural and uncontaminated foods. Research has indicated that organic crops, on average, have higher concentrations of antioxidants, lower levels of cadmium (Cd), and a reduced frequency of pesticide residues compared to conventionally grown crops [40]. For instance, organic tomatoes were found to contain, on average, more vitamin C than conventional tomatoes [41]. By reducing the application of synthetic chemicals, organic farming also minimizes the potential health risks posed by pesticide residues. This approach has potential to decrease the incidence of certain chronic diseases and conditions [42].

References

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  4. Crowder, D.W.; Reganold, J.P. Financial Competitiveness of Organic Agriculture on a Global Scale. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2015, 112, 7611–7616.
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  7. Huntley, E.E.; Baker, A.V.; Stratton, M.L. Composition and Uses of Organic Fertilizers. In Agricultural Uses of By-Products and Wastes; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, USA, 1997; pp. 120–139.
  8. Claassen, V.P.; Carey, J.L. Comparison of Slow-Release Nitrogen Yield from Organic Soil Amendments and Chemical Fertilizers and Implications for Regeneration of Disturbed Sites. Land Degrad. Dev. 2007, 18, 119–132.
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