More and more consumers are spending a little extra cash on organic foods. From ensuring that your produce isn’t doused in pesticides, to avoiding genetically modified foods, hormones, and antibiotics, health conscious consumers are choosing organic.
But according to a recent study, your health isn’t the only reason to choose organic foods. Researchers recently found that organic farming is also beneficial to the local flora and fauna.
Organic farming is good for biodiversity, according to a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B- Biological Sciences. Researchers found that organic agricultural fields have more local biodiversity in terms of wild plants, which offsets the lack of biodiversity on conventional fields. Researchers at Swansea University compared organic winter wheat fields to conventional winter wheat fields in the Charente region of France.
“Wild plants are important for birds, bees and other farmland species. Organic farming has advantages in maintaining these,” said Dr Luca Borger of the Department of Biosciences at Swansea University, reported on Global Agriculture.
Conventional herbicides and pesticides kill off local weeds, which in turn, impact the local animals that feed on them.
“Even a mixture of organic and non-organic farming in an area can help maintain this biodiversity. Even only 25% of fields being organically farmed can make a difference,” said Dr Luca Borger.
Pesticides Kill Off Biodiversity
This study proves a theory that organic enthusiasts already know. When you apply tons of pesticides to crops you do more than kill a few weeds, you impact the entire habitat. This is the problem with genetically modified crops. Roundup Ready corn, soybeans, and cotton for example are modified to be immune to Roundup so farmers can dump an onslaught of the pesticide on their crops. But by using too many pesticides, farmers poison the soil, the earth, wildlife and everything that surrounds the farm including animal habitats.
In some parts of the country, toxic chemical runoff from conventional farms is so big that dead zones are being created in bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico. That dead zone, or low oxygen water, at times can be as big as the size of Connecticut (around 5,052 square miles). This is significant because sea life can’t survive in low oxygen water. They either have to migrate or die.
Another example is the Monarch butterfly, a species of butterfly that feeds on milkweed. As a result of the overuse of pesticides, milkweed is disappearing across the Midwest which means Monarch butterflies are disappearing too. Habitats and their built-in biodiversity work in concert, and by killing off parts of the circle of life, the cycle ceases to work. Not to mention that pesticides pollute the soil and groundwater, which further kills off biodiversity.
The Living Soil and Crop Diversity
A biodiverse landscape helps organic crops grow. For example, clover is used as a cover crop to help suppress unwanted weeds and balance nitrogen levels to create a nutritionally rich soil and help control diseases. Predatory insects are often introduced to help control other unwanted pests. Ladybugs, minute pirate bugs, and other beneficial insects add to the biodiversity. Compost and manure are also added build a rich soil.
Crop rotation is an important part of organic farming. By rotating crops year after, the soil is kept in balance by feeding it the required nutrients crops need to support and grow robust and sustainable crops.
Conventional farms on the other hand are often monoculture farms where one crop like sugar beets, wheat, or corn, you know the ones that are grown as far as the eye can see, which depletes the soil of vital nutrients year after year. This dependence on one crop can cause a monoculture farm to become even more dependent on toxic chemicals to grow their yearly crops because of their nutritionally deficient soil.
Many weekend gardeners already know that organic farming allows the environment to thrive while conventional farming, and all the pesticides that go along with it, work against the environment. Organic farming uses methods that have been used since humans started farming. It’s about keeping the soil healthy and utilizing cover crops, bugs, and natural fertilizers to promote a healthy growing environment and a healthy planet. When land is nurtured in this fashion, you can grow clean food year after year.