Assessment of benefits of organic farming:
Several studies have been made in order to establish the benefits of organic farming. In my opinion if discussion is made about organic farming in light of parameters such as ecosystem, natural resources, farm input and output, and health and welfare etc., we can very well conclude the efficacy of the natural organic system.
Ecosystem: Ecosystem consists of mainly floral and faunal biodiversity, habitat diversity and landscape conservation. The findings of many studies suggest that organic farming clearly performs better than conventional farming in respect to floral and faunal diversity. Due to the ban of synthetic pesticides and Nitrogen-fertilizers in many of the developed nations, organic farming systems provide potentials that result in positive effects on wildlife conservation and landscape. Potentially, organic farming leads to a higher diversity of wildlife habitats due to more highly diversified living conditions, which offer a wide range of housing, breeding and nutritional supply. However, direct measures for wildlife and biotope conservation depend on the individual activities of the farmers. It needs to be stressed, that organic farming, as well as each form of agriculture, cannot contribute directly to many wildlife conservation goals. However, in productive areas, organic farming is currently the least detrimental farming system with respect to wildlife conservation and landscape.
Soil: The impact of organic farming on soil properties has been researched comprehensively by many agencies. Information is somewhat limited only in respect to soil erosion. Studies show that organic farming tends to conserve soil fertility and system stability better than conventional farming systems. This is due to mostly higher organic matter contents and higher biological activity in organically farmed soils than in conventionally managed. Furthermore, organic farming has a high erosion control potential. In comparison, no differences between the farming systems were identified as far as soil structure is concerned. Soil performance is, however, highly site specific.
Ground and surface water: Several studies have shown that organic farming results in lower or similar nitrate leaching rates than integrated or conventional agriculture. Farm comparisons show that actual leaching rates per hectare are up to 57% lower on organic than on conventional fields. However, the leaching rates per unit of output were similar or slightly higher. Critical areas for nitrate leaching in organic farming are ploughing legumes at the wrong time and the selection of unfavorable crops planted afterwards and composting farmyard manure on unpaved surfaces. However, consciousness of the problem and its handling has increased recently. Alternative measures have been developed and introduced in organic farming practice. Organic farming does not pose any risk of ground and surface water pollution from synthetic pesticides. Although incorrect organic farm management practices could indeed bear some potential risks for polluting ground and surface water. The detrimental environmental effects from organic farming tend to generally be lower than those from conventional farming systems. Thus organic farming is the preferred agricultural system for water reclamation areas.
Climate and air: This section deals with the differences between organic and conventional farming with respect to greenhouse gases, ammonia (NH3) emissions and air contamination due to pesticides. Study on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions shows that, CO2 emissions are 40 - 60% lower in organic farming systems than in conventional ones, whereas on a per-unit output scale, the CO2 emissions tend to be higher in organic farming systems. Quantitative study shows, on N2O emissions in different farming systems are scarce. However, experts conclude that N2O emissions per hectare on organic farms tend to be lower than conventional farms, while the N2O emissions per kg of milk are equal or higher, respectively. Quantitative studies on CH4 emissions in different farming systems are also scarce. Experts estimate that organic farming has a lower CH4 emission potential on a per hectare scale, while CH4 emissions per kg of milk are estimated to be higher in organic dairy farms than in conventional ones. Calculations of NH3 emissions in organic and conventional farming systems conclude that organic farming bears a lower NH3 emission potential than conventional farming systems. Housing systems and manure treatment in organic farming should aim for further reduction. As synthetic pesticides are not permitted in organic farming, the air contamination is significantly lowered compared to conventional farming.
Farm input and output: The studies reviewed about on-farm balances of nutrients, water and energy with respect to organic and conventional farming can be summarized as: nutrient balances of organic farms in general are close to zero. In all published calculations, the N, P and K surpluses of organic farms were significantly lower than on conventional farms. Negative balances were found for P and K. Most studies indicate that energy consumption on organic farms is lower than on conventional farms. Energy efficiency calculated for annual and permanent crops is found to be higher in organic farming than in conventional farming in most cases. However, no research results on water use in organic and conventional farming systems are available.
Animal health and welfare: Regarding animal health and welfare, it depend highly on farm specific conditions, thus housing conditions seem not to differ significantly between organic and conventional farms. Animal health status seems to be closely related to economic relevance of animal husbandry on the farm. Significantly fewer incidences of metabolic disorders, udder diseases and injuries were found when dairy production was properly managed. Organic dairy cows tend to have a longer average productive life than conventional dairy cows. Although the application of homeopathic medicines should be preferred, conventional veterinary measures are permitted and used in acute cases of disease.
Quality of food produced: No clear conclusions about the quality of organic food in general can be reached using the results of present literature and research results. The risk of contaminating food with pesticides and nitrate can be assumed to be lower in organically rather than in conventionally produced food. Given the discussed factors specific to animal products, a strong argument exists for the superiority of animal products from organic in comparison to conventional farming.
Conclusion on the assessment - The review of the relevant literature with respect to organic farming and its impacts on the environment and resource use showed that organic farming performs better than conventional farming in relation to the majority of environmental indicators reviewed. In no indicator category did organic farming show a worse performance when compared with conventional farming. While detailed information is available as far as the two categories of soil and nutrients are concerned, a research deficit was ascertained for the indicator categories climate and air, animal health and food quality. Due to the lack of information, it was only possible to completely assess the performance of the different farming systems with respect to their environmental and resource use impacts on a per hectare scale.