Savvy farmers didn't need a Wall Street Journal analyst or Ouija board to help them plot their professional paths. And when they realized they could double the price for organic fruits and vegetables-and raise it 60% for organic milk-that clinched the deal.
"Conventional growers are transitioning their farms to organic production because they are seeking more promising and lucrative markets for their products," confirms Rosalie Koenig, owner of Rosies Organic Farm in Gainesville, Florida, and a member of the National Organic Standards Board. She also codirects the Center for Organic Agriculture at the University of Florida.
Visit a local farm, and you'll likely see natural alternatives replacing chemical herbicides, fumigants, synthetic fertilizers and insecticides to nourish crops, control weeds and pests, and practice effective disease control.
By gaining a better understanding of ecology, farmers can employ organic gardening techniques to enhance crop fertility. Many now acknowledge that their former methods caused groundwater pollution, soil erosion and health problems associated with chemical residues.
"The National Organic Standards require the producer to manage crop nutrients and soil fertility through rotations, cover crops, and the application of plant and animal materials," Koenig tells OrganicAuthority.com. "Growers are encouraged to compost plant and animal materials prior to application on their crops.
"The Standards narrowly define how compost containing animal manures must be made if it is destined to be applied directly to crops with no waiting periods prior to crop harvest," she adds. "Raw manures, or composts that contain manure that doesn't comply with parameters specified in the regulations, have either a 90- or 120-day waiting period between application of the material and harvesting of the crop. This waiting period helps reduce the chance of pathogen contamination from manure products."
Farmers can also use a crop nutrient or soil amendment found on the National List Of Synthetic Substances Allowed For Use In Organic Crop Production, Koenig says, as well as naturally mined minerals-"as long as they are managed in a manner that does not contribute to contamination of crops, soil or water by plant nutrients, pathogenic organisms, heavy metals or residues of prohibited substances," she notes.
Farm animals are now provided with more comfortable and cleaner shelter. Increased space reduces stress, allowing them to behave instinctively and boosting their immune systems.
On organic farms, cows enjoy a plant diet that complies with federal guidelines (90% of dry feed must be organically grown; the remaining 10% must not include any animal protein or genetically engineered products). Similar feed specifications exist for other farm animals.
Many farmers are also using homeopathic and herbal medicine to treat disease, resorting to vaccines and antibiotics only when no other options exist. Growth hormones-illegal in many countries, such as the United Kingdom-are never used on organic farms.
Pest control, a major issue for all farmers, is also going organic. To combat harmful pests, farmers who cultivate organic fruit and vegetables are building up populations of beneficial insects, which eat other pests, control egg growth and turn the tables on unwanted bugs by acting as "positive" parasites.
Crop rotation, another effective method, breaks insects' bad habits by disrupting their desire to return to the same area each year to feed.
"The National Organic Standards require the producer to use management practices to prevent pests, weeds and diseases that include, but are not limited to, crop rotation, soil and crop nutrient management practices, sanitation, cultural practices that enhance crop
health, mechanical and physical methods, and applications of nonsynthetic biological, botanical or mineral inputs," Koenig explains.
"Only when these practices are insufficient to prevent or control crop pests, weeds and diseases can a pesticide be used as a tool to control the problem. The type of crop protection material that can be used is limited to biological, botanical or synthetic substances that have been approved for use and included on the National List Of Synthetic Substances Allowed For Use In Organic Crop Production."