What is Organic Farming?
The USDA defines organic agriculture as "a production system that is managed to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity."
More specifically, organic farming entails:
Use of cover crops, green manures, animal manures and crop rotations to fertilize the soil, maximize biological activity and maintain long-term soil health.
Use of biological control, crop rotations and other techniques to manage weeds, insects and diseases.
An emphasis on biodiversity of the agricultural system and the surrounding environment.
Reduction of external and off-farm inputs and elimination of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and other materials, such as hormones and antibiotics.
A focus on renewable resources, soil and water conservation, and management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological balance.
Many organic farmers, including Wende Elliott and Joe Rude of Colo, Iowa, view organic production as a means to work with the environment and maintain the balance of their ecosystem. "Natural systems work hard if you incorporate biodiversity into your operation instead of fighting it," said Rude, who co-farms 125 acres of pastured poultry, corn, hay and alfalfa.
Using nature as a model for the agricultural system - recycling nutrients, encouraging natural predators to manage pests, increasing plant densities to block weeds - organic farmers don't merely substitute non-toxic materials for pesticides and fertilizers, but rather consider the farm as an integrated entity, with all parts interconnected.
When livestock and poultry are incorporated into organic systems, the potential for diversification and integration is even greater: Livestock feed on grasses and mixed forages, both of which help improve soil structure. At the same time, livestock provide manure to fertilize soil, and can be used to "cull" any non-harvestable crops.