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As populations have grown, farming practices have become more intensified to maximise crop yields and ensure we can feed the ever growing population. Fertilisers and pesticides are used on crops, and animals may be kept inside in more densely packed sheds to maximise milk yields, or egg production, or speed up the time needed for the animal to be ready to be sent to market for meat.
An alternative to conventional farming is organic farming.
Organic farming currently accounts for about 1% of agricultural land worldwide. It focuses on sustainability and is thought to have less detrimental effects on the environment than conventional farming. This has led to it being proposed as an alternative to conventional agriculture for helping to overcome the climate change crisis we are currently experiencing. The debate continues, as it is not a perfect solution.
In theory, organic farming should not use chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides or feed additives for livestock. It requires the farmer to use more natural alternatives. This results in lower yields, but the farmer can sell their produce at a higher price because consumers believe the produce is of a higher quality.
Instead of fertilisers, manure is used. This recycles waste and improves the soil structure. However, it is smelly and more difficult to apply than chemical fertilisers, and also means the farmer has less control over the mineral content they are putting into their soils.
Crop rotation is used to reduce disease building up in the soils and to strengthen the soil composition. Certain crops, such as the legume family – so peas and beans, fix nitrogen from the air and increase the nitrates in the soil. This makes the soil much more fertile, and so farmers rotate legumes with their other crops. Growing multiple crops is however less efficient and produces lower yields than specialising in one or few crops however.
Instead of using herbicides, weeding is the preferred organic farming technique. This is of course much more environmentally friendly because it is chemical free but it is very labour intensive. Although this does mean more jobs available, which is a great thing.
Organic farming is thought to maintain the biodiversity better than conventional farming because fewer chemicals are used. There are more bumble bees and insects in an area because pesticides haven’t been used. Weeds and non-crop plants can grow as herbicides aren’t used. Biodiversity benefits the food chain across all levels, from the plants up to the foxes.
These are the theories of organic farming, and is how we farmed for the one hundred thousand years before the industrial revolution. It is generally thought that organic farming is much better for biodiversity, and also produces a healthier product because less chemicals are used on it.
In the second video on organic farming, we will look at some of the problems of organic farming, and the reality of what it means to be an organic farm.
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