What does an Organic Farmer do?

Jessica Gore

An organic farmer produces vegetables, fruit, cereal crops, or livestock without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. In the case of livestock, certified organic feed must be used, and synthetic hormones or food additives are generally prohibited. In addition to planting, tending, and harvesting crops, an organic farmer must optimize the biological productivity of the land, and carefully monitor site selection, soil conditions, and livestock health. To be financially successful, organic farmers need to maintain certification and strategically market their products.

Organic sorghum.
Organic sorghum.

Organic farming begins and ends with the soil. An organic farmer views the soil as a living partner in agriculture, and works to protect and maintain the viability of the land. This may take the form of composting, companion planting, mulching, and careful monitoring of earthworm populations. The organic farmer feeds the soil with manure, compost, and other organic matter, and maintains ground cover and moisture levels to prevent water and wind erosion.

Earthworms are often used in organic farming because they provide natural fertilizer.
Earthworms are often used in organic farming because they provide natural fertilizer.

Every aspect of an organic farm is required to meet strict criteria. For example, when choosing crop seeds, an organic farmer must verify that the seeds come from certified organic stock. This might mean saving seeds from the previous year, or buying from a trusted source. Additionally, when choosing the variety of crops to plant, or breed of livestock to raise, an organic farmer must consider not only profit margins and productivity, but also disease and pest resistance as well as reproductive health.

Milk from an organic dairy farm.
Milk from an organic dairy farm.

To legally label produce as organic, an organic farmer must maintain certification with the local governing body. Organic standards are not universally applicable, as each country has its own particular soil and climate considerations. For that reason, organic farmers raising produce for the purpose of export need to meet the standards of the destination country in addition to their home regulations. Some countries, such as the United States and Canada, have equivalency agreements in place to simplify trade.

Soil is integral to organic farming.
Soil is integral to organic farming.

In addition to producing quality crops and livestock, organic farmers must design careful marketing strategies. It is estimated that organic operations are 25-30% more labor-intensive than standard farming practices, and to achieve a financial return on time investment organic farmers need to appropriately market their products to target consumers. Cooperative markets, health food stores, and specialty supermarkets are more likely vendors than large discount stores. As demand increases, organic farming becomes more economically viable, so organic farmers must also be effective vocal advocates for the organic movement.

An organic farmer might sell his goods to a health food store.
An organic farmer might sell his goods to a health food store.
Organic farmers should look into their local food co-op as a place to sell their produce.
Organic farmers should look into their local food co-op as a place to sell their produce.
In the U.S., "certified organic" products cannot include genetically modified ingredients.
In the U.S., "certified organic" products cannot include genetically modified ingredients.
Some organic fruits and vegetables come from local, sustainably run farms.
Some organic fruits and vegetables come from local, sustainably run farms.
In addition to raising crops, organic farmers must design careful strategies for marketing their products.
In addition to raising crops, organic farmers must design careful strategies for marketing their products.
Organic farmers often sell their produce to specialty grocers and health food stores.
Organic farmers often sell their produce to specialty grocers and health food stores.
The practice of organic farming limits the use of pesticides.
The practice of organic farming limits the use of pesticides.

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