Organic Farming of Recent Years

Organic farming is the form of agriculture that relies on crop rotation, green manure, compost, biological pest control, organically approved pesticide application and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and control pests, excluding or strictly limiting the use of synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, plant growth regulators, livestock antibiotics, food additives, and genetically modified organisms.

Since 1990, the market for organic products has grown at a rapid pace, to reach $46 billion in 2007. This demand has driven a similar increase in organically managed farmland. Approximately 32.2 million hectares worldwide are now farmed organically, representing approximately 0.8 percent of total world farmland. In addition, as of 2007 organic wild products are harvested on approximately 30 million hectares.

Organic agricultural methods are internationally regulated and legally enforced by many nations, based in large part on the standards set by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), an international umbrella organization for organic organizations established in 1972. IFOAM defines the overarching goal of organic farming as follows:

“Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.”

History of Organic Farming

The organic movement began in the 1930s and 1940s as a reaction to agriculture’s growing reliance on synthetic fertilizers. Artificial fertilizers had been created during the 18th century, initially with superphosphates and then ammonia derived fertilizers mass-produced using the Haber-Bosch process developed during World War I. These early fertilizers were cheap, powerful, and easy to transport in bulk. Similar advances occurred in chemical pesticides in the 1940s, leading to the decade being referred to as the ‘pesticide era’.

Sir Albert Howard is widely considered to be the father of organic farming. Further work was done by J.I. Rodale in the United States, Lady Eve Balfour in the United Kingdom, and many others across the world.

As a percentage of total agricultural output, organic farming has remained tiny since its beginning. As environmental awareness and concern increased amongst the general population, the originally supply-driven movement became demand-driven. Premium prices from consumers and in some cases government subsidies attracted many farmers into converting. In the developing world, many farmers farm according to traditional methods which are comparable to organic farming but are not certified. In other cases, farmers in the developing world have converted for economic reasons. As a proportion of total global agricultural output, organic output remains small, but it has been growing rapidly in many countries.