Here at Hungry for Truth, we receive a lot of questions about organic food and farming. We thought it may be helpful to share some information on how organic is defined. While most of the farmers in South Dakota do not farm organically, Hungry for Truth supports choice and believes there’s a place for all kinds of farming operations.
You may be surprised to find out there are many similarities between organic and nonorganic farming, but there are also some differences too. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates use of the organic label, and we’ve broken down the USDA’s standards for organic farming.
Organic farmers add compost, animal manure and green manure to give the soil nutrients from natural sources in place of synthetic fertilizers. The plants then absorb these nutrients to produce a healthy crop. Soil conservation is also part of organic farming standards. Many farmers incorporate cover crops, mulches and conservation tillage to maintain the biodiversity of the land.
Organic animal health care starts at the beginning with genetics. Farmers select breeds and animals that are healthy and adapted to their environment. From there, prevention is the main strategy for health care. Organic farmers try to prevent disease with a healthy diet, low-stress environment and plenty of exercise to build up strong immune systems in their animals. Organic farmers may use certain approved vaccinations and other preventative measures to try to prevent illness.
When organic livestock get sick, there are no organic-approved treatments for those animals. Farmers usually treat them with antibiotics, just like when people get sick. If an animal receives antibiotics, the meat, milk or eggs from that animal cannot enter the food supply until the medicine has fully passed through its system and then it is marketed as a non-organic product.
Livestock on organic farms must have access to the outdoors, including shade shelter, clean drinking water and direct sunlight. Grazing animals, like cattle, sheep and goats, need to have access to pasture during the grazing season. The idea is to promote the natural behavior of the animals.
Many conventional farmers also use the practices listed, but the big difference with organic comes from what you can’t do. To be certified organic, farmers may not use most synthetic fertilizers for soil nutrition, or pesticides for controlling insects, weeds or diseases. Some approved fertilizers and pesticides may be used on organic farms, but many rely on the PAMS method: prevention, avoidance, monitoring and suppression.
Another restriction for organic farmers is GM ingredients. Organic farms may not plant GM crops, and livestock may not have any feed that includes GM ingredients.
The application process for becoming certified organic is extensive. In fact, land must be in organic production for three years before it can be certified. USDA inspectors visit the farm each year for recertification.
To maintain the organic integrity of the product, organic crops cannot come in contact with unapproved substances like pesticides and fertilizers, and the seeds and foods of organic and non-organic must not mix. All equipment that is used for non-organic products must be thoroughly washed each time before it is used for organic products.
As you can see, the difference between organic and non-organic lies in how the crops or animals are raised; there is no nutritional difference in the actual food. We think it’s great there are so many nutritious options out there for every family’s preferences. If you have any questions about organic or other types of farming, we would be happy to help answer them. Check back on our blog for more about how food gets from the farm to your table.