The organic food movement may be having a positive influence on conventional agriculture, according to new research conducted by Jeremy Lawrence Caradonna, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, Canada.
“One of the biggest knocks against the organics movement is that it has begun to ape conventional agriculture, adopting the latter’s monocultures, reliance on purchased inputs and industrial processes,” writes Caradonna for The Conversation. “New research, however, suggests that the relationship between organic and conventional farming is more complex. The flow of influence is starting to reverse course.”
As part of a research project conducted last year across Canada, Caradonna found that conventional farms were borrowing techniques used by the organic movement including cover cropping, on-farm biodiversity, and the introduction of beneficial insects. These techniques allow conventional farms to reduce the necessity of pesticides, artificial fertilizers, and excessive tilling.
For the purposes of his research, the conventional farms that Caradonna visited practiced split production: a portion of their production was certified organic, while the other portion was conventional. This, Caradonna notes, is likely an important element in the presence of organic techniques on these farms; it often takes a farm beginning the transition to organic to learn how well organic techniques work, he notes.
Farms visited by Caradonna included 4,800-acre Kroeker Farms/PoplarGrove in Winkler, Manitoba, Canada’s biggest organic vegetable operation.
“We try really, really hard to use organic-type pesticides or biological [control agents] in our conventional," CEO Wayne Rempel, told Caradonna. "Once you spray with a more lethal spray that’s a broad spectrum [pesticide], the pests flare up after that.”
Canada is home to more than 4,000 certified organic farms, with a total of 2.43 million organic acres; by contrast, the United States is home to more than 14,800 organic farms and 5.3 million organic acres.
Some large organic operations in both countries have been criticized for incorporating techniques associated with conventional agriculture into their practices, including monocropping; Mark Kastel, co-founder of organic watchdog group The Cornucopia Institute calls this trend "organic by substitution." Farms working this way use pesticides and herbicides that are approved for use in organic instead of using more sustainable weed and pest control techniques and therefore do not build soil health on their land.
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