In recent years, organic farming has made a bit of a comeback – and for good reason. More and more exposure has been placed to the chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides being used in large-scale agriculture production. This has left little wonder as to why organic farming has experienced a dramatic boom in popularity.
As it’s defined in most communities, organic farming is the cultivation of plants in the organic matter without the use of any chemical soil contaminants (such as chemical pesticides or fungicides). Considering how popular it’s become in recent years; many people are searching for an in-depth breakdown of organic farming. In this article, we’ll be going over all of the essential organic farming pros and cons to clear up any confusion on the subject.
Like anything in life, organic farming has several important advantages, while also implying a few negative points. Let’s take a look at all things organic farming.
Advantages of Organic Farming
1. No GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
This is by far the biggest and most commonly known advantage of organic farming. Across most modern-day agriculture, genetically modified plants are cultivated quite frequently.
What was once thought of as an agricultural achievement has now been deemed a serious threat to human health. Scientists have now confirmed that genetically modified foods can transfer various forms of antibiotic resistance, toxicity, and allergenicity onto the consumer https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3791249/.
There is also a growing amount of evidence showing that GMOs may pose a serious threat to the agriculture system as a whole because they make it easier for pests to spread diseases https://www.montana.edu/hhd/graduate/dietetics/blog_posts/GMO_environment.html.
2. Improves soil
It’s not just the plants themselves that benefit from organic farming. The soil the plants are cultivated in also becomes healthier without the use of harmful chemicals. Organic farming has been linked to improved soil fertility and productivity. By preserving the soil’s organic composition, farmers can support the soil microbial activities that transform and release nutrients back into the plants https://www.nifa.usda.gov/topics/organic-agriculture.
More specifically, organic farming has been confirmed to enhance soil organic matter content, moisture content, nutrient availability, biological activity, and more https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8465994/.
3. Environmental sustainability
One of the more prominent and far-reaching organic farming pros is the effect it has on environmental sustainability. There is a long list of reasons supporting the fact that organic farming is more climate-friendly as compared to traditional farming. The following list offers a few of the most relevant reasons:
- Carbon remains stored in healthy, fertile soil https://civileats.com/2017/09/11/new-study-shows-organic-farming-traps-carbon-in-soil-to-combat-climate-change/
- Significant reduction in energy requirements
- Elimination of petroleum-based chemical fertilizers and pesticides
- Organic farming methods have less fossil fuel consumption (this effect reverberates throughout the entirety of the agriculture system: less dependence on processing machines, chemical factories, machine labor, etc.)
4. Organic crops have improved quality
Another advantage of organic farming is the improved food benefits. Not only do fruits and vegetables produced with organic farming taste better, but they are also more nutritious too. Organic fruits and veggies have been shown to have a higher vitamin and mineral content. Having a greater availability of organic foods isn’t just good for longevity and overall health – our tastebuds love them too!
5. Less groundwater pollution
Alongside affecting the crops and soil, the chemical compounds used in traditional agriculture hurt the groundwater. It’s estimated that contemporary agriculture accounts for around 70% of water abstractions throughout the world https://www.fao.org/land-water/news-archive/news-detail/en/c/1032702/. It plays a major role in water pollution in local streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater.
Disadvantages of Organic Farming
1. Significant start-up costs
Arguably, one of the biggest cons of organic farming is the mass amount of capital necessary to make it a cost-effective venture. Organic farmers have a hard time acquiring government subsidies to grow their products – especially in comparison to conventional farmers. This is largely because it is so costly to get all the necessary equipment and testing completed to fulfill regulator standards surrounding ‘organic’ produce.
Many small farmers simply won’t be able to put up the capital necessary to operate an organic farm successfully.
2. Organic food has a shorter shelf life
The majority of fresh foods we find on our grocery store shelves are filled with preservatives and waxes to maintain freshness. To be certified as organic, organic farmers cannot use these treatments on their foods. This leads to organic fruits and vegetables spoiling much faster than conventional ones.
This is not only a problem for consumers but merchants too. Grocery stores are in business to make a profit, and many of them aren’t willing to take the risk to invest more money into organic foods that may go bad upon arrival. This explains why there is usually only a small ‘organic’ section in most grocery store produce aisles.
3. Organic foods are more expensive
Another one of the major disadvantages of organic agriculture is the increased cost for consumers. It costs more to produce organic foods, which means consumers are going to be paying more at checkout. Some estimates suggest that organic fruits and veggies cost between 20-40% more – a rate that many consumers simply can’t afford https://www.cnet.com/home/kitchen-and-household/how-much-more-expensive-is-organic/.
Many economists have analyzed this problem through the lens of an economic cycle. When the economy is strong, consumers are more willing to pay higher prices for food – willing enough to support the organic farming industry. However, when the economy is weak and consumers are hard on cash, they are more likely to choose cheaper products over organic ones. This draws into question the long-term viability of organic produce in the marketplace.
4. Skill and labor gap
Naturally, organic farming is going to require more skilled physical laborers in comparison to conventional farming. One of the prominent organic farming drawbacks is the inability to use advanced agriculture innovations such as mechanized or chemical techniques.
Organic farming requires far more qualified laborers to complete day-to-day tasks. Another major issue is the time it takes to develop and acquire these necessary skills. There is a major gap between the demand for organic products and the actual supply of the skills it takes to cultivate organic products https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/organic-farming-crops-consumers.
5. Problems with crop yield
Another one of the more commonly talked about cons of organic farming has to do with its decreased product yield. By most estimates, organic farming has a 25% lower crop yield when compared with conventional farming methods https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2020/02/05/organic-sustainable-food/. This disadvantage is largely linked to the substantially higher prices consumers are forced to pay for organic products.
As we battle an ever-growing population, this problem is becoming more in more concerning. Modern-day agriculture already accounts for 38% of the global land surface https://www.fao.org/sustainability/news/detail/en/c/1274219/. Simply put, we are running out of farm space. If you add this fact to the skill and labor gap mentioned previously, you have a compelling argument as to why organic farming is not a sustainable solution in the long term.
As is the case with any disruptive topic, there are several organic farming disadvantages and advantages to consider. Each side of the argument makes a compelling case, but in the end, we are faced with a simple question: Is the state of our health, home, and environment worth the sacrifice of not pursuing organic farming?
By no means are all the finer details of organic farming ironed out yet. We still have a long way to go in terms of sorting out the economics involved with organic farming. With that being said, many would argue that the long-term reward of pursuing organic farming will be well worth the trouble.