Organic agriculture can be defined as an approach to farming that’s reliant on ecosystem management rather than the use of external agricultural inputs.
You can therefore picture a farmer whose operations do not involve the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, genetically-modified seeds and breeds, veterinary drugs, preservatives and additives. In place of these are management practices that are geared towards achieving long-term soil fertility and the prevention of crop and animal pests and diseases.
According to FAO there are three main motivations for organic agriculture as follows:
- Consumer or market-driven organic agriculture – whereby farmers target consumers who prefer organic produce
- Service-driven organic agriculture – farmers are incentivized for implementing production techniques that result in environmental sustainability
- Farmer-driven organic agriculture – the farmers are self-motivated to embrace sustainable production techniques since they consider conventional agriculture to be unsustainable
From a business perspective though, is it advisable to practice organic farming?
Research carried out by different institutions and stakeholders has indeed revealed that organic farming tops conventional farming. One of these studies, carried out by the Rodale Institute over a 30-year period, practically affirms as much. The findings of this study confirm that embracing organic farming does make more business sense as follows:
1. Organic farms rake in more profits
This study revealed that organic farms made an average net return of $558/acre/year as compared to $190/acre/year in conventional farms. The two major reasons why organic farms manage to earn three times as much as conventional farms include the higher prices paid for organic produce and the lower input costs incurred.
A 20-year study at the Swan Lake Research Farm in Minnesota, USA, also confirmed the immense profit potential of organic farming.
Generally, organically-farmed food attracts price premiums of up to 30%.
Further evidence of organic farming’s high earning potential has been witnessed in Uganda, Africa’s leading practitioner of organic agriculture. Earnings from organic exports in 2003/4 stood at US$3.7 million. These increased to US$6.2 million in 2004/5 and leapt to US$22.8 million in 2007/8.
It’s rather obvious therefore that organic farming is the way to go.
2. Organic farming yields equal or surpass yields from conventional and GM farming
The Rodale study revealed that following a three-year transition period, yields from organic farming equaled those from conventional farming. It also revealed that leguminous crops were capable of fixing sufficient quantities of nitrogen in the soil, and that they can in effect be used instead of synthetic fertilizers.
In this regard, organic soil enrichment has been shown to offer a better promise for farm efficiency and sustainability.
As a farmer, you would certainly want your soils to remain fertile and productive over the long-run.
3. Organic crops are comparatively more resilient
In this study, organic corn yields in years of drought were 31% higher than conventional corn yields. Interestingly, these organic yields also outdid those from genetically-modified drought-tolerant corn varieties, and whose yields only bettered the conventional corn yields by 6.7-13.3%.
Growing organic crops is therefore certain to ensure the sustainability of your farming business during drought years.
4. Organic farming methods are comparatively more efficient
The Rodale study revealed that compared to conventional systems, organic systems used 45% less energy. Production efficiency was 28% higher in the organic systems.
Yet another study at Cornell University showed that organic farming systems use 63% of the energy required by conventional farming systems. Additionally, less energy expenditure results in less greenhouse gas emissions. Organic farming is therefore climate-friendly.
An organic farming business will therefore incur less expense with regards to energy usage, thus translating into cost savings.
5. Organic agriculture progressively increases soil health
The study showed that while conventional farming maintained overall soil health, organic farming actually improved soil health.
Organic farming enhances soil fertility by improving moisture retention and by naturally facilitating microbial activity. As a result, plant nutrition is boosted.
It is thanks to organic practices such as inter-cropping, crop rotation, application of organic fertilizer, planting of cover crops, use of symbiotic associations and minimum tillage that soil productivity is progressively enhanced. These practices are also crucial in helping to control soil erosion.
Organic farming is therefore a superb way to ensure the continuity of your farming enterprise.