Frequently Asked Questions about Organic Cultivation / Organic Farming Faq
Many people are sending questions about Organic farming. We have put here most Frequently Asked Questions Of Organic Cultivation (Organic Farming FAQ).
What is Organic agriculture or farming?
Organic farming is not about just discarding the use of pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics and growth hormones. Organic farming optimizes the productivity of diverse systems within the agro-ecosystem. The main aim of organic farming is to develop a structure that is harmonious and sustainable to the environment. This type of farming depends on ecological processes and biodiversity of the local area rather than use of inputs that have adverse effects.
What are the advantages/benefits of Organic agriculture?
There are many advantages of organic farming, some of which are outlined here:
- Discourages the use of pesticides and insecticides or synthetic chemicals, thereby reducing the risk of soil contamination and adverse health problems.
- Helps build healthy soil.
- Fights the soil erosion problem.
- Reduces the effects of global warming.
- Supports water conservation and improves water health.
- It reduces the algae bloom problem.
- Improves animal health and welfare.
- Encourages biodiversity.
- Less investment in farming due to inexpensive substances used as manure and fertilizers.
What is needed for Organic farming?
Before starting an organic farming procedure, there are certain things which must be verified thoroughly to maintain the quality of the produce. These are considered highly important for organic farming:
- The land should be free from prohibited substances defined by the organic certification board. The farm should have defined boundaries and buffer zones to prevent the application of unintended substances.
- The soil should be treated such that its characteristics improve over the years. Soil management should be done using non-chemical methods. No substance that contaminates the soil should be used.
- Only organically grown seeds or seedlings should be used for planting.
- Crop rotation on the farm should be essentially done using green manure crops of high standard.
- Pest and disease control should be done using mechanical or non-synthetic control measures.
- Mulching the farm bed with non-biodegradable materials is not suggested and is prohibited on organic farms.
What are the methods/ characteristics/key features of Organic farming?
The methods of organic farming are:
- Soil management – organic farming initiates the use of natural ways to benefit the soil on a long term basis. Bacteria present in the animal waste helps to keep the soil nutrients intact even after one cultivation cycle.
- Weed control – organic farms lower the occurrence of weeds rather than completely removing them.
- Crop diversity – farming different types of crops to produce required micro-organisms in the soil and to meet the growing demand is achieved through organic farming.
- Controlling other organisms – the main aim in organic farming is to control both the useful and harmful organisms with natural or biological methods or by using natural substances listed in the national list.
- Maintaining buffer zones and record keeping – this is important to know about the farm activities and control if any contamination is found.
What does one get from Organic farming?
The first thing one can expect from organic produce food safety. Since organic farms avoid the use of harmful pesticides and insecticides, they produce food that is safer to use and less harmful. It has been observed that the produce from organic farms contains more minerals, less water and no artificial chemicals which ultimately make the food more natural and tasty. Also, it is known that organic produce contains more vitamin C, proteins and other minerals.
What are certified Organic products?
A certification body, usually verifies the produce and checks if the product meets the organic standards or specifications during its entire production cycle like farming procedure, processing, storing, handling of produce and marketing. Only then it certifies the produce as ‘organic’ and such products are termed as certified organic products. The certification may vary for different countries, but the organic label surely indicates that the produce is farmed and processed in an ecologically sound manner.
What is an Organic label?
An organic produce with an organic label indicates that the product is certified against some standards outlined by the organic council. The label is generally given by a certification body of the respective country where the product is farmed and it informs the consumer on the type of standards followed during production and processing and the type of recognition granted by the certifying body. This label works as a guide for the consumer to know more about the product and its quality. There are many different standards on which the produce may be certified such as international voluntary standards, national mandatory standards, local voluntary standards and accreditation.
Why is Organic food considered expensive than conventional food?
The price of the organic produce is not just the cost of production, but it also includes environmental protection and enhancement such as building soil fertility, maintaining high standards of animal welfare, avoiding heath risk of farmers due to the use of harmful pesticides etc.
The food produced from the organic farms is expensive when compared to the conventional food variety for the following reasons:
- Organic food production is limited and demand is high.
- The labor cost of organic farming is high.
- Post harvest management of organic produce is higher.
- Marketing and distribution is inefficient and handling small volumes of produce is charged extra thereby increasing the cost of the produce.
Is it possible to produce enough food for everybody using Organic farming?
It is observed that the production from the organic farm depends on the previous management system. The intensity of the external input use before conversion into an organic farm decides the yield of the farm. Mostly, irrigated organic farms show identical yield to conventional farms, but rain-fed traditional farms with low input when converted to organic farms show higher yield. So, possibly yes the produce from organic farms can feed the entire population, but it should have a proper management and distribution pattern.
What is the difference between natural and Organic food?
Organic food is developed or obtained through a systematic procedure and is approved by the organic council only if certain standards are followed during its production cycle. Whereas, natural food has no restrictions on its cultivation procedures, no proof of its quality and are minimally processed such that they are prone to fraud and misuse.
How are Organic farms fertilized?
Generally, crop rotation with cover crops and compost obtained from animal and plant matter are the main nutrients for the organic farm. The soil texture, organic content and microbial activity of the farm can be improved by maintaining proper cultivation and tillage practices. There are some permitted synthetic substances, which can be used as extra supplemental nutrients for the organic farms.
How are pests and diseases controlled in Organic farms?
Pests in the organic farms are controlled by biological and cultural practices such as crop rotation, diversification, habitat management, release of beneficial organisms, good sanitation and timely maintenance. Substances like botanicals, non-toxic synthetic pesticides, etc. listed on the organic farming list of one’s own country can be used in the organic pest management schedule.
Similarly, following the above cultural practices can control diseases to a certain extent. Apart from these, there is the need to use disease resistant varieties of seeds and prune the plants whenever necessary. Natural compounds like clay and non-toxic fungicides like copper sulfate are also allowed on organic farms for disease control.
Why are Organic farms not fertilized with synthetic fertilizers?
It is believed that the use of synthetic fertilizers containing petrochemicals is a non-sustainable method of farming and it disrupts the natural cycle, pollutes the environment, leaves toxic residues in the soil, etc. One of the major problems that has resulted from the use of these fertilizers is a heavy growth of algae in the water bodies, which restricts the supply of oxygen and sunlight to the plant and animal life within the water reserve. Also, these fertilizers need too much energy for their production.
Are there any precautionary measures during manure application in Organic farms?
Raw manure or any other animal or plant matter should be handled carefully before application to the farm so that it doesn’t contaminate the soil, water and crop. The manure must have to be composted properly so that harvesting can be done without any restriction. It is important to note that leafy crops which remain in contact with the soil should be harvested 120 days after the application of uncomposted manure and other vegetables or crops should be harvested 90 days after the application of uncomposted or raw manure.
What is the control method for weeds in an Organic farm?
Organic farms use manual weeding, water management, tillage, mulching, crop rotation for weed suppression, etc. as some of the cultural ways of weed management. It is believed that weeds on the organic farm improve soil condition, provide habitat for natural enemies, helps in soil conservation, etc. Mulching the soil basin with plastic material is permitted on organic farms only if they are removed at the end of the cropping season. The use of natural substances is permitted but their efficiency of the weed removal process is not yet clear.
Do organic farms use Organic seeds?
According to the specification outlined by the NOP, organic farming should be done using organically produced and handled seeds if they are available for that particular variety. The annual transplants should always be grown organically unless the Secretary of Agriculture issues a notice for a temporary variance due to a natural disaster in the region. Chemically untreated seeds or seeds treated with microbial products (listed on the national list) should be used for organic farms. If organic seeds are available commercially then they can be used for farming.
What are bio-pesticides?
Pesticides that have been made out of natural materials from animals, plants, bacteria and other natural minerals then they are called bio-pesticides. Different forms of neem like the kernel extract, seed, and leaf, etc. are being used in India as pesticides for organic farms due to their effectiveness and lost cost.
What are the disadvantages of Organic farming?
There are also some disadvantages associated with the system such as:
- The produce is expensive when compared to the produce from conventional farms.
- Production may need more labour for different activities.
- Smaller produce, so marketing and distribution is not efficient.
- Not many subsidy schemes are available for the farms.
- Needs specific knowledge about the farming system.
- The produce needs a rigorous certification process.
- The produce from the farms doesn’t have a long shelf life.
Do Organic farms use genetically modified organisms while production?
The Soil Association of India has stated that organic food producing farms cannot use organisms that are genetically modified because they are not compatible with the standards of the organic food and farming procedures. Hence, GMOs are strictly prohibited from organic farming.
What is the difference between Organic manure and chemical fertilizers?
When compared to chemical fertilizers, organic manure is considered to have low nutrient content, i.e. to supply 25 kg of NPK to the plants, around 600 to 2000 kg of organic manure is required and only 50 kgs of NPK complex chemical fertilizers are needed. Another major difference in the two is about their composition; organic manure has a variable composition of nutrients depending on the method of preparation and place of origin, but chemical fertilizers have a constant composition (e.g. Urea manufactured anywhere by any company has 46% nitrogen).
What is the amount of nutrition provided by Organic manures?
The nutrition provided by organic manure depends on its method of preparation. Farmyard manure is estimated to provide around 12 kg of nutrients per ton, compost supplies 40 kg of nutrients per ton, Leguminous green manure provides an average of 20 kgs of nitrogen per ton and sorghum/wheat/rice straw does provided 26 kg of nutrients to the plants.
Do Organic farmers need to keep a record of all the materials used for the farm?
Yes, organic farmers are required to keep note of all the products that have been used for farming so as to help the certifying agency know the ingredients used for the farms and allow them to cross-verify their compatibility with the laid out organic standards. The certification body reviews all these products before certifying them.
How does a farm get certified as Organic?
The one who wishes to obtain an organic certification for his/her farm should initially make a self-assessment to check if the operations of the farm meet the requirements of organic standards in terms of land, farm history, production, materials, farm practices and record keeping procedures. To comply with the organic standards, some practices or procedures need to be modified and then the farmer should select an accredited certifier, fill and submit an application for getting certified. His/her farm is inspected after submitting an application and if the conditions are met, then a certificate is issued by the certifier for the farm.
What are the principles of Organic farming?
Organic farming is done on the basis of the following principles:
- Principle of health
- Principle of Ecological balance
- Principle of Fairness (quality produce)
- Principle of Care
What are the different types of Organic farming?
Basically, organic farming is of two types such as pure organic farming and integrated organic farming. Pure organic farming as the name suggests, involves the use of organic substances and completely avoids inorganic chemicals and pesticides. Whereas, integrated organic farming is a more sustainable form of agriculture which is dynamic in nature. Mostly used integrated pest management and integrated nutrient management practices.
Why is Organic farming needed?
Organic farming should be adopted so as to increase genetic diversity, promote the use of natural pesticides, ensure cultivation on the right soil at the right time, to build good soil structure and make it fertile and to control the unwanted things on the farm in a natural way.
Which state in India is the first Organic farming state?
Sikkim is considered to be the first organic state in India. Organic agriculture in this state started some 13 years ago. All the farm lands in Sikkim together constitute around 76,000 acres and is converted into 100% organic land.
What are some of the Organic pesticides used for farming?
Some of the all natural, inexpensive organic bug busting pesticides for a home garden or organic farm could possibly be:
- Neem oil or extracts
- Salt spray
- Mineral oil
- Citrus oil and cayenne pepper
- Combination of soap, orange citrus oil and water
- Eucalyptus oil
- Onion and garlic spray
- Decoction of chrysanthemum flower
- Tobacco spray
- Chile pepper in diatomaceous earth
What is the expected return from an Organic farm?
Organic farms generally use polyculture i.e. many varieties of crops are cultivated on the same farm. It is estimated that for a half acre organic farm, the investment in the farm needs is around 6000 to 8000 rupees and the generated income is around rupees one lakh. This clearly means that even if there are any other miscellaneous charges involved in the farming activities, there is a profit margin of around 40K to 50K rupees per month.
What are some Organic fertilizers?
Some organic fertilizers can be listed as:
- Alfalfa meal (2.5% N, 1% P and 1.5% K)
- Bat guano (8% N, 6% P, 1% K)
- Fish emulsion (9% N)
- Seaweed (1% N, 2% P, 5% K)
- Cow manure (2.5% N, 1% P, 1.5% K)
- Poultry manure (3.5% N, 1.5% P, 1.5% K)
- Green sand (1% N, 1% P, 5% K)
- Compost (2% N, 1.5% P, 1.5% K)
- Soybean meal (3% N, 0.5% P, 2.5% K)
- Blood meal (12% N, 1.5% P, 0.5% K)
- Feather meal (12% N)
Can Organic farms use chemical pesticides?
Synthetic compounds can be on the list of substances to be used as sprays for organic farming only if they are considered non-toxic and are compounds made of natural mineral combinations such as copper and sulphur. Some other naturally occurring substances like nicotine and arsenic are not permitted as pesticides for organic farms.
What are some of the key issues for Organic farming in India?
Farmers, certification bodies, policy makers and companies have some common issues for organic farming in India and these could be outlined as:
- Lack of a nodal agency to introduce regulations in an uncoordinated manner.
- Lack of comprehensive policy for holistic development of organic farming.
- No clear standards for labelling and certification for domestic and international markets, which results in malpractices.
- Lack of interest on the part of key trading partners to sign equivalence arrangements.
- Lack of proper organic supply chain which leads to contamination and deterioration of produce.
Should the entire farm be converted or can a farmer make the transition field by field?
Conversion is possible field by field, but for this conversion to happen a field should have distinct, defined boundaries and buffer zones so as to protect it from runoff and other unwanted contamination. The farm should have proper facilities and the farmer should always keep a record of farming activities in the fields so that there could be a clear difference between organic and non organic farm structure.
Are there any penalties for misuse of the term Organic and if so what are they?
Yes, any person or organization selling or labelling produce as ‘Organic’, which doesn’t comply with the standards of the Organic Food Production Act and National Organic standards is liable for a civil penalty of $10,000 per each violation along with criminal sanctions based on the violation of governing federal laws.
What is an Organic Systems Management plan?
It is also called as an organic farm plan or organic farm handling plan and is required for organic certification process. The plan or documents speak about the farm operation, farm operator, management and record keeping practices that were used during the production of organic products. This data serves as a contract between the operator and the certifier. To obtain Organic plans the farmer can take the help from organic certifiers to know about the norms and standards. These plans should be updated annually to maintain a perfect organic status.
What are organic fertilizers made of and what are the advantages of Organic fertilizers?
Organic fertilizers are made out of plant, animal matter and some powdered minerals. Most commonly they are termed as soil conditioners rather than fertilizers. Some of the basic advantages of organic fertilizers are:
- Improve the soil structure over a certain period of time.
- Slow release fertilizers, so no need to over fertilize the plants.
- Little or no toxic buildup of chemicals and salts.
- Organic fertilizers are considered to be renewable, biodegradable, sustainable and environmental friendly.
- Can be prepared easily by composting the available cow or poultry manure.
What are bio-fertilizers and how many types of bio-fertilizers are available?
Bio-fertilizer is defined as the capability of a microorganism to fix the atmospheric nitrogen by planting suitable crops in the soil. These micro-organisms tend to mobilize nutritive elements from non-usable form to a usable form by a biological process. There are two types of bio-fertilizers: the symbiotic N-fixation (Rhizobium) and the asymbiotic N-fixation (azobacter, azopirillium, blue-green algae, azolla and mycorrhiza)
What is National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP)?
It is a nationwide program that involves an accreditation program for certification bodies, norms for organic farming and promotes organic agriculture. The standards of NPOP are recognized by European and Switzerland committees, as they are similar to their standards. Also NPOP is considered equivalent to USDA (US).
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What is a National List?
The national list describes the list of substances that can be used for the organic farm and it also provides the list of substances prohibited from organic farming methods. All the allowed synthetic and prohibited non-synthetic substances are listed here for reference. These substances are listed exclusively because they are exceptions from the general rule for organic production. Sometimes it is also called as ‘open list’.
What is the cost of Organic Certification?
In India, there are many certifying bodies working under the Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), who inspect and certify the farms. The charges levied by these agencies are different and it depends on the type of farm and their processing structure. The details can be obtained by visiting the APEDA website. It is important to note that every certification agency or organization has an initial application fee for starting the certification process.
What is a transition period?
In order to obtain a certified organic product from the farm, it is important to know that the farm where the organic produce is being cultivated should follow organic practices at least 36 months before the yield or harvest. The process of adapting to this organic structure from a previous traditional structure should happen for 36 months, which is generally termed as a transition period. The operator, soil, insect and weeds all get adjusted to the new structure within this period of time.