An organic farm is a farm that does not use chemicals for treating pests, ridding the area of weeds or for fertilizer. Organic farming can have different definitions to different people. The international organization IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement) is an umbrella organization that sets forward suggestions that many countries use when considering what they consider an organic farm.
The fundamental principle of organic farming is enhancing and improving the health of the soil. Healthy soil grows crops that are less likely to develop diseases and better able to withstand stress. Organic farmers improve soil through rotating crops, growing cover crops, composting and mulching. They do not use chemical fertilizers but may use processed natural fertilizers such as seed meal.
While conventional farming relies heavily on chemical sprays and treatments, organic farming takes a different approach to pests. On an organic farm, a certain amount of pest damage is tolerated. Beneficial organisms and natural predators may be released on the farm. Rotating crops keeps bugs such as the potato beetle, which have one favorite food source, from developing a significant population.
Pests are also controlled by row covers and netting. One of the most significant ways that an organic farm can have a successful harvest is to cultivate plants that are designed to grow well in the area. Growing plants that are not well suited for the climate stresses them and makes them much more susceptible to damage from pests.
An organic farm treats weeds without chemicals as well. The oldest, and still the most effective way to treat weeds is manually. While this may work on a smaller farm, most organic farms fight weeds by planting cover crops and mulching around plants. One technique used to increase the nutrients in the soil and keep the weeds to a minimum is planting nutrient-rich cover crops in the aisles between the plants the farmer hopes to harvest.
An example of this is planting alfalfa, a grass that sends nitrogen into the soil, between rows of corn. During the growing season the corn and alfalfa do not compete with each other for nutrients. The alfalfa also prevents weed seeds from taking hold in the soil. At the end of the season, the corn is harvested and the alfalfa is plowed into the soil. Once in the soil, it decomposes, improving the quality of the soil for next year’s planting.
Organic farms are often more work than conventional farms, but they provide intangible benefits, such as a reduction in the amount of water they need, a reduction in the contamination of ground water by pesticide runoff and less soil erosion.