Organic farms provide us with chemical-free produce and products that are good for us and for our environment.
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Early farming to modern farming
Early farming would have been classified as organic because it was undertaken without the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and modern farming innovations such as genetic modification (GM).
The technology that we have available today was not available to farmers back then. Over time, scientists and engineers have developed new technology to help farmers. New machinery (such as tractors, cultivators and planters) has been manufactured, benefiting farmers by allowing them to work more quickly and operate on a larger scale.
There have also been many new scientific developments which aimed to kill insects and pests that damage crops, make crops more resilient to disease and ensure that crops produced a greater yield. The process of genetic modification has allowed things such as insect and disease-resistant vegetables and longer-lasting fruits to be developed. Farmers also began spraying pesticides, insecticides and fertilisers on produce and pastures, and feeding or injecting growth hormones and antibiotics to animals that are eaten by humans.
These innovations can come at a price to humans, our pastures, crops, animals and to the environment.
What is wrong with using chemicals?
Research shows that pesticides used on crops and pastures can seep into the soil, destroy native plants and even flow into our creeks and rivers and travel all the way out to sea.
Many people now believe that if plants are nurtured and allowed to flourish without harsh chemicals they will naturally yield sweeter, juicier and healthier produce.
People are becoming more and more aware of the types and quantities of chemicals that are used in farming fresh produce, meat and processed foods. Many consumers are beginning to look for healthier, environmentally friendly and chemical-free produce and product alternatives.
What is the alternative?
For an increasing number of people, the answer is organic food and products which are farmed by organic farmers, who use natural, chemical-free methods. Organic farming began as a reaction against the technologies, which many view as unnatural, complicated and sometimes unsafe, polluting the traditional natural way of farming.
What is organic farming?
It is said that everything that can be farmed, can be farmed organically. This includes fruit, vegetables, eggs, honey, dairy, wheat, rice, wool, beef, herbs and much more. Today, you can even buy organic processed food, organic make-up and organic cleaning products.
Instead of using chemicals, fertilisers, growth hormones, drugs, antibiotics, animal cloning and genetic modification, organic farmers revert to techniques that have existed for thousands of years. These include using animal manure as fertiliser, mowing, controlled grazing, and rotating crops to keep the soil healthy.
Planting seeds and seedlings in healthy soil is one of the most important aspects of organic farming. Organic farmers say that if you do not have healthy, nutrient-rich soil, healthy plants will not be able to grow and your farm will not be sustainable. To be a successful organic farmer, you must have an enormous amount of knowledge about farming and the environment. You must know how to look after your soil, plants and animals and make sure that they exist harmoniously together.
Organic farming provides us with delicious and healthy fruit and vegetables, but it also gives us meat that is chemical free and free range. Animal welfare is a high priority for organic farmers. To be classified as truly organic, animals must be free range and have access to organic pasture or feed for their entire lives. To give them a well-rounded diet, and to ensure that they receive all the nutrients they need to have a healthy life, organic animals are sometimes fed seaweed, minerals, and natural vitamins. Free range animals are able to live in natural groups and to behave and interact as they would in the wild.
Organic Vs free range?
A lot of people think that organic and free range are the same thing, but they are not. The difference between organic and free range is vast.
As you already know, organic means that no chemicals are used throughout any stage of farming: breeding, feeding, growing and raising and that these standards are closely monitored.
Free range farming has nothing to do with the use of chemicals: it refers to the fact that animals have access to the outdoors.
One of the most debated products is free range eggs. In fact, the terms free range and eggs seem to go hand in hand. Free range eggs have recently become a popular alternative to cage eggs (where hens are kept in small cages, without being able to move freely).
It is generally agreed that free range eggs are a better alternative to eggs from caged hens. However, it is important to know what free range actually means. The Australian Government1 currently states that to be free range, an egg must be laid by a hen that:
- has meaningful and regular access to an outdoor area during daylight hours
- is able to roam and forage outside
- lives on a farm that has no more than 10,000 hens per hectare.
This is the minimum standard. Many farms follow stricter standards than this and egg producers now have to label their packaging with their stocking density (how many hens per hectare) so that consumers are better informed.
Free range does not mean organic. Free range eggs often come from chickens that are fed antibiotics, unnatural diets and substances to brighten the colour of their yolk. These essential differences between organic and free range mean that we can say that organic products are always free range, however free range products are not always organic.
Becoming ‘Certified Organic’
To officially be classed as organic, farmers must be certified (officially recognised or approved) as organic. This means that they must follow some very strict rules and regulations to ensure that their products and their growing and processing practices really are organic.
Farms are inspected, the produce sampled, and records checked to ensure that certification standards have been followed exactly. The rules have to be strict because it is very easy for farmland and soil to become affected by chemicals. For example, pesticides could drift over from a neighbour’s farm, or be in the water used on plants. The food fed to farm animals must also be grown organically.
If a conventional farmer who uses pesticides and genetic modification wants to become a certified organic farmer, it takes about three years to convert their farm to certified organic status.
However, after one year of following the organic farming regulations, farmers can sell their produce as ‘in-conversion’. This lets customers know that they are still in the process of becoming truly organic. Once a farm is certified, its produce can be labelled as ‘certified organic’. Certified organic farms are visited by an auditor once a year to make sure the farmers are still adhering to organic standards.
In Australia, Australian Organic Ltd (which operates the Australian Certified organic accreditation program) and the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA) provide ways for farmers and food producers to use official logos on their products that show people they can be trusted as 100 percent organic.
About the Australian organics industry
Organic farming in Australia is all about quality, self-sufficiency, increased biodiversity, animal welfare, recycling and regeneration. In Australia, we know all too well what a precious resource water is, so being water efficient is an essential part of organic farming. Ensuring that the soil is healthy and full of organic matter allows it to retain more of the moisture essential for crops to survive droughts.
Australian organic products have a great reputation for being of the highest quality. According to the Australian Organic Market Report 20172, five of the top ten reasons that people in Australia buy organic products are related to the ‘free from’ aspects. This includes ‘chemical free, ‘additive free’, ‘non-GMO’, ‘hormone and antibiotic free’, and ‘cruelty free’.
Despite the Australian organics industry being only 25 years old, it is now valued at $1.72 billion2, which is huge. Australia has the largest amount of certified organic land in the world and Queensland has the largest organic farming industry in Australia.
Organic production is growing rapidly in Australia, as more and more consumers choose to buy organic foods. In fact, Australia’s organic industry grew by 17 percent in 20162.
Australian Organic Ltd lists the most commonly purchased organic products in Australia as fruit and vegetables, cooking ingredients, canned goods, bread, red meat and dairy products2.
There are other organic products you might not even have thought of, such as essential oils. Organic oils are in demand because they are in organic make-up and cosmetics which are becoming very popular.
Organic farming in Australia provides jobs for thousands of people and we export organic products to many countries including the USA, South Korea, China, Hong Kong and Singapore2.
Organic farming, food and products fast facts
- The ancient Romans discovered early on that to produce healthy crops, the soil must be kept rich and fertile. They achieved this by mixing animal manure into the earth.
- Organic animals must be fed organic food, and organic plants must be chemical free. This has caused some disputes between neighbouring farmers. Some organic farmers have said that their neighbour’s pesticides and herbicides have been blowing onto their land and affecting their plants and animals.
- Organic fruits and vegetables can sometimes appear misshapen or imperfect. This is just the way fruits and vegetables grow naturally. Not every apple is the same perfectly round, shiny orb, but it is still just as juicy and scrumptious as any other apple.
- Did you know that Australian Organic Ltd has reported that more than one million Australians now regularly buy organic produce and products?
- There are 1.6 million organic producers located around the world in countries such as India, Uganda and Mexico.
- Around 3,000 Australian businesses are certified as organic.
- Organic farming is one of Australia’s top five growth industries.
- Australia has 53 percent of the world’s organic farmland2.
- Every September, the Australian organics industry is celebrated during Australian Organic Awareness Month. During this time, organic industries such as food, drinks, skincare, cosmetics, clothing, cleaning products, garden products and even pet food are promoted and celebrated through events all over the country. What a great time to try organic products!
1 Australian Consumer Law (Free Range Egg Labelling) Information Standard 2017, viewed 20 June 2017: https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2017L00474
2 Australian Organic Ltd, Australian Organic Market Report 2017, Australian Organic Ltd, Nundah, Qld.