Organic farming can be profitable, and organic food appeals to consumers as both a healthy and ethical choice. Beyond money and ethics, though, organic farming practices result in numerous environmental benefits.
Reduced Exposure to Pesticides and Chemicals
The Organic Trade Association notes that if every farmer in the U.S. converted to organic production, we could eliminate 500 million pounds of persistent and harmful pesticides from entering the environment annually. Pesticide and chemical use results in many negative environmental issues:
- Pesticides allow disease resistance to build up in plants, weeds, plant-eating-insects, fungi, and bacteria.
- Pesticides and chemicals sprayed on plants contaminate the soil, water supply, and air. Sometimes these harmful pesticides stick around for decades (maybe longer).
- Synthetic chemicals also discourage smart farming practices such as cover crops and crop rotation, which in turn, may cause other harmful environmental problems like erosion.
Organic Farming Builds Healthy Soil
To grow healthy food, you must start with healthy soil. If you treat the soil with harmful pesticides and chemicals, you may end up with soil that cannot thrive on its own. Natural cultivation practices are far better than chemical soil management.
A large nine-year study by USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), shows that organic farming builds up organic soil matter better than conventional no-till farming.
According to Dr. Elaine Ingham, just one teaspoon of compost-rich organic soil may host as many as 600 million to 1 billion helpful bacteria from 15,000 species. Ingham notes that on the flip side, one teaspoon of soil treated with chemicals may carry as few as 100 helpful bacteria.
Not only does organic farming build healthy soil, but it helps combat serious soil and land issues, such as erosion.
A major study comparing adjoining organic and chemically treated wheat fields showed that the organic field featured eight more inches of topsoil than the chemically treated field and also had only one-third the erosion loss.
If you aren't concerned about erosion; you should be. Erosion issues are extremely serious, affecting the land, food supply, and humans. However, organic farming practices do help discourage erosion from occurring.
Fighting the Effects of Global Warming
Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial is America’s longest running, side-by-side comparison of conventional and organic agriculture. The trial, running since 1981, has shown that a healthy organic agriculture system can actually reduce carbon dioxide and help slow climate change. In fact, the Rodale research shows that:
"If only 10,000 medium sized farms in the U.S. converted to organic production, they would store so much carbon in the soil that it would be equivalent to taking 1,174,400 cars off the road, or reducing car miles driven by 14.62 billion miles.
Organic Farming Supports Water Conservation and Water Health
Dwindling water supplies and poor water health are very real threats. When our water supply is at risk, people and the planet end up suffering.
American Rivers notes that a major water pollution threat to U.S rivers is runoff from non-organic farms, such as harmful pesticides, toxic fertilizers, and animal waste. Organic farming helps keep our water supplies clean by stopping that polluted runoff.
Organic farming also helps conserve water. Organic farmers, in general, tend to spend time amending soil correctly and using mulch - both of which help conserve water. Cotton, an in-demand crop, requires a lot of irrigation and excess water when grown conventionally. However, organic cotton farming needs less irrigation and thus conserves water.
Discouraging Algal Blooms
Algal blooms (HABs) result in adverse effects on the health of people and marine animals and organisms. Algal blooms also negatively affect recreation, tourism and thus, local and regional economies. While there is more than one cause of algal blooms, a primary human-based cause of algae blooms is runoff from the petroleum-based fertilizers often used in conventional farming.
Supporting Animal Health and Welfare
Insects, birds, fish and all sorts of other critters experience problems when humans swoop in and destroy their natural habitat.
Additionally, animals who live on organic farms are exposed to clean, chemical-free grazing that helps keep them naturally healthy and resistant to illness. As a perk for organic farmers, happy and healthy organic animals are productive organic animals.
Organic Farming Encourages Biodiversity
In general, the more biodiversity there is on a farm, the more stable the farm is. Organic farming encourages healthy biodiversity, which plays a critical role in how resilient, or not, a farm is to issues like bad weather, disease, and pests.
Additionally, reduced biodiversity may directly correlate with a rise in infectious diseases, which of course, isn't good for people or the planet.
To learn more about biodiversity, check out the book The Organic Farming Manual by Ann Larkin Hansen - chapter 13 is all about preserving and encouraging healthy biodiversity on an organic farm.