Organic farming produce is becoming increasingly popular among consumers worldwide who are concerned about the following:
- Their own and their family health.
- Food safety issues, to avoid diseases.
- Care of the environment – especially the soil.
- Overuse of fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides.
- The sustainability of farming.
- The increased use of genetically modified crops and animals.
New Zealand farmers need to be aware of what is involved in converting to an certified organic system, if they intend to exploit these market premiums.
Organic farming is not new. It’s the way we used to farm right up to the time when rapid advancements were made in fertiliser manufacture and the use of agricultural chemicals, high-producing plants and crops. It’s the way we used to farm before we went from away from "farming rotations" with great emphasis of care of the soil, into much more of a "monoculture" and emphasis on short-term economic return. Today’s Proactive Organic Farmers combine up to date research data with proven farming practices just as their counterpart in the convention system.
What modern organic farming is NOT!
If you are considering changing to organic farming, you may have a few critics who will repeat the theory that you will not survive financially, you’re profitably and production will have to fall. Be clear on these points. Organic farming is NOT:
- Farming by neglect!
- Losing money.
- The road to bankruptcy
- Letting your farm run down and look like a wilderness.
- Letting pastures and crops fail through low fertility and disease.
- Letting animals perform poorly because of poor feeding and disease.
Letting animals suffer, and breaking the law (Animal Welfare Act 1999).
Always remember that to be a good organic farmer, you’ll have to be an above-average conventional farmer. The farmer who is struggling to be profitable in the conventional system will not adapt well to organic farming, hence they tend to blame the system for their failure, rather than themselves.
Has New Zealand got a competitive advantage for organics?
The answer must be YES. We do have these advantages to meet a world demand for organic produce:
- A clean, green and humane image.
- Vast natural resources free of pollution – water, soil and air
- Isolation from other countries and their contaminants.
- Absence from contamination by heavy metals.
- An outdoor legume-based pastoral farming system.
- Temperate climate.
- A non-nuclear policy.
Beware - keep an open mind.
Many people (both farmers and consumers) understand what organic farming is – but know little of the production systems supporting the practice, or the science behind it.
Many of the practices used by organic farmers may not have much proven science behind them –hence they are heavily criticised by the some of the scientific community who keep saying "there is no evidence" to prove that these practices work. This is the approach of assuming guilt before proof of innocence.
Some brief definitions
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has framed a handy definition of organic farming, which, although it misses out some important aspects, provides a description of the key practices:
"Organic farming is a production system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. To the maximum extent feasible, organic farming systems rely on crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and health to supply plant nutrients and control insects, weeds and other pests".
The British Organic Farmers and Organic Growers Association has defined organic agriculture as follows:
"Organic farming seeks to create an integrated, sustainable agricultural system, relying first and foremost on ecological interactions and biological processes for crop, livestock and human nutrition and protection from pests and diseases".
Information provided by:
Mr Denis Cadwallader, Organic Farming Specialist. 22 May Avenue, Napier, New Zealand
Mr Cadwallader is guest tutor in Organic Farming at the Waikato Polytechnic.
Phone (07) 834-8806 for further information on courses.