Organic Growing

Organic horticulture avoids the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. Compost, green manures and animal manures are used. Pest and weed control can be achieved in a number of ways without the use of chemical sprays.

Why Organic?

About 3,000 tonnes of pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides are released into the Irish Environment each year.  These can be toxic to both human health and the environment. 

In January 2017 the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food produced a report on pesticides for the UN General Assembly, which stated that: “Pesticides cause an array of harms.  Runoff from treated crops frequently pollute the surrounding ecosystem and beyond, with unpredictable ecological consequences.  Furthermore, reductions in pest populations upset the complex balance between predator and prey species in the food chain, thereby destabilizing the ecosystem.  Pesticides can also decrease biodiversity of soils, which can lead to large declines in crop yields, posing problems for food security.”  He goes on to state that: “Without or with minimal use of toxic chemicals, it is possible to produce healthier, nutrient-rich food, with higher yields in the longer term, without polluting and exhausting environmental resources.  The solution requires a holistic approach to the right to adequate food that includes phasing out dangerous pesticides and enforcing an effective regulatory framework grounded on a human rights approach, coupled with a transition towards sustainable agricultural practices that take into account the challenges of resource scarcity and climate change.” 

Organic horticulture has been shown to produce high yields.  You can read about Kildinan Farm in Cork here.  This organic farm produces a range of salad leaves on 5 acres and manages to make a per hectare income that is 90-125 times the income for sheep and beef farms in Ireland and 33 times the average per hectare income of dairy farms.

Organic agriculture has faced claims that far greater land use and associated deforestation would be necessary to feed the world organically due to a supposed yield gap of 20% on intensive production but this yield gap was found to be a myth as shown in the Thirty Year Farm System Trial by the Rodale Institute.

The Farming Systems Trial (FST) at the Rodale Institute is America’s longest running, side-by-side comparison of organic and chemical agriculture.  After an initial decline in yields during the first few years of transition, the organic system soon rebounded to match or surpass the conventional system.  The findings were as follows:

  • Organic yields match conventional yields after a 5-year transition period.
  • Organic outperforms conventional in years of drought by up to 40%.
  • Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter.
  • Organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient.
  • Conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gases.

Check out the Organic Growers of Ireland and the Irish Organic Association.

Stockfree Organic Growing:

Stockfree Organic Growing uses no animal products or by-products, such as bloodmeal, fish products, bone meal, feces, or other animal-origin matter.  Soil fertility is maintained by the use of green manures, cover crops, green wastes, composted vegetable matter, and minerals.  Pests are controlled by planting different types of crops in the same area.  The different foliage patterns and smells confuse pests and make it harder for them to target susceptible plants. Certain plants drive pests away, and others attract predators which feed on these pests.

Vegan Organic Growing:

In 2018 The Humane Party produced a report comparing the productivity of a small-scale vegan-organic farm to conventional and organic agriculture outputs in the United States during the 2018 growing season.  The following are the key findings

  • The vegan-organic farm was 2.3% more productive than conventional and 41.6% more productive than organic farming methods.
  • The vegan-organic farm generated 868% more income than conventional and 421% more income than organic agriculture practices per kilogram of produce.
  • The vegan-organic farm was 33.5% more productive than conventional and 85% more productive than organic farming methods when on-farm waste is considered.  

Useful websites:

No-dig farming:

Digging and turning over the soil exposes a very delicate ecosystem to the air which dries it out, and to the ultraviolet rays of the sun, which sterilize the soil – killing the soil organisms.  The soil loses a lot of its nutrients, such as carbon and nitrogen.  It also loses a lot of its organic matter, and as a consequence, does not retain water as well.  The delicate soil structure is destroyed and compaction of soil occurs, leading to hardpan formation. Erosion is increased due to reduced water infiltration in the soil and more surface runoff.

With no-dig farming organic matter (such as compost, straw, leaves and mulch) is added directly to the soil surface, so the soil is left intact.

Andrew Bergin farms 320 acres of tillage in Co.Kildare. He has been practising no-till cereals for a good number of years, while managing the soil in a way to promote high levels of biological benefits.