Over the years, it has become commonplace to understand and define organic agriculture as farming without synthetic pesticides and conventional fertilizers. This should not be considered a definition but a characteristic — only one characteristic of a socially and environmentally conscious approach to agriculture that is currently experiencing rapid growth in the U.S.
A more suitable definition of organic agriculture is provided by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) — the federal advisory panel created to advise the USDA on developing organic legislation.
"..an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony."
The NOSB definition, not surprisingly, is similar to many definitions of "sustainable" agriculture. Research on organic farms, done over several decades, has revealed characteristics usually associated with sustainable farming, such as reduced soil erosion , lower fossil fuel consumption , less leaching of nitrate , greater carbon sequestration and, of course, little to no pesticide use.
Organic farming is based on the following approaches and production inputs:
- Strict avoidance of synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides
- Crop rotations, crop residues, mulches
- Animal manures and composts
- Cover crops and green manures
- Organic fertilizers and soil amendments
- Biostimulants, humates, and seaweeds
- Compost teas and herbal teas
- Marine, animal, and plant by-products
- Biorational, microbial, and botanical pesticides, and other natural pest control products
In 1980, organic farming was defined by the USDA as a system that excludes the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and growth regulators. Organic certification emerged as a grassroots production and marketing tool during the 1970s and 1980s to ensure that foods labeled "organic" met specified standards of production. The Organic Foods Production Act, a section of the 1990 Farm Bill, enabled the USDA to develop a national program of universal standards, certification accreditation, and food labeling.
In April 2001, the USDA released the Final Rule of the National Organic Program. This federal law stipulates, in considerable detail, exactly what a grower can and cannot do to produce and market a product as organic.
Source: National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service