Recent History – 2000
Aug. 3, 2000
“There are thousands of different methods used in any farming. The biggest difference between organic and conventional agriculture is how the producers approach it,”says Tim Ewert, president of the Peace River Organic Producer’s Association (PROPA).
Consumer and Corporate Affairs Canada defines organic farming as a practice that seeks to create ecosystems that achieve sustainable productivity and provide weed and pest control. This is achieved through a diverse mix of mutually dependent life forms, with the recycling of plant and animal residues and through crop selection and rotation, water management, tillage and cultivation.
“The purpose of organic farming is to be sustainable,”said Ewert. In order to achieve sustainability, the organic producer follows three general principles.
First, the organic farm is seen as a whole system, therefore any change to one part will affect the whole.
The second principle is based on the understanding that the natural ecosystem is a diverse system with checks and balances that suppress outbreaks of pests. The organic producer simulates this system by “using crop rotations, limiting the amount of livestock and by maintaining natural habitat areas,”explained Ewert.
The third principle addresses recycling. In a natural ecosystem there is continual growth, decay and recycling of nutrients. On an organic farm, plant and animal residues are returned to the soil minimizing the need for soil amendments.
The soil is a crucial component of organic farming in contrast to conventional farming in which the soil is simply a medium and chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are added in order to make the seed grow. In organic farming the soil plays an active role. The producer builds up the organic matter in the soil so that it will provide the needed nutrients for seed growth.
The following are examples of methods used to create active soil. Organic farmers use a crop cover or they leave crop residues on the soil. Strip cropping or increasing organic matter following crop rotations and minimizing tillage. Avoiding overgrazing by livestock. Adding soil microorganisms by applying composted manure and eliminating highly soluble fertilizers and synthetic pesticides.
“In terms of costs and profits, organic and conventional farming probably even out in the end,’ said Ewert. While fertilizer and pesticide purchases are eliminated in organic farming, costs for cover crop seed and for labour may increase. “With an automated system conventional hog or poultry producers can speed things up and deal with more animals with reduced labour,”said Ewert.
Space on an organic farm is a much more important factor; regulations state how much space, both indoors and outdoors, each animal must have. “It is several times what a conventional farm allots,”said Ewert. “It is also more difficult to use mechanized systems.”
Organic yields appear to depend on the crop being produced. Some crops seem to have the same yield on organic farms as conventional, while other crops produce approximately 20 per cent less.
Generally, yields increase with the number of years of organic farming. With relatively new markets, some producers are able to get a premium price for organic produce. However, some producers still sell to conventional markets.
“The reason a producer chooses to farm organically is usually not financial,”said Ewert. “We farm organically because we want the land to be sustainable into the future, and because we believe the products are clean and healthy and better to eat.”
There are approximately 42 certified organic farms in the B.C. and Alberta Peace. They raise a range of crops and livestock including beef, bison, poultry, hogs, and wild turkeys.