Here at Tend we champion sustainable farming practices. Organic farming is one such technique that benefits the whole food production system from people and animals to plants, soils and ecosystems.
Why is organic farming important?
Over the past 70 years, the majority of farming has evolved to use vast quantities of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. This means we are now feeding ourselves at the expense of our forests, wildlife and water, while simultaneously destabilising the climate system. Indeed, intensive agriculture has caused a marked reduction in bird species and pesticides have contributed to a global insect decline.
This cannot continue if we want to sustainably feed a growing population. Indeed, there are only about 60 harvests left before we run out of soil, given the current impact of industrial farming.
Today, 40% of our land is farmland, but feeding the growing population will require protection and restoration of ecosystems. ‘Agroecological’ practices such as organic farming are paramount in a world characterised by a climate emergency, diet-related diseases and declining biodiversity and wildlife.
How does organic farming benefit wildlife?
According to Biological Conservation, organic farming boosts biodiversity at every level of the food chain. For instance, the chemicals that kill insects, weeds or fungal diseases, which then accumulate in the food chain as birds and other animals eat the affected insects, are not used. Instead, balanced wildlife populations encourage birds and beneficial insects to control pests, diseases are reduced using crop rotations, and mechanical weeding or natural suppressants eliminate weeds. Organisations such as Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have acknowledged the dramatic benefits of organic farming on the wildlife surrounding farms. Organic practices and adopting wildlife-friendly management of habitats could be a solution to the current biodiversity crisis.
How does organic farming improve soil health?
Healthy soil is very important for the growth of crops. It houses nutrients and microbes, holds water, and provides a foundation from which plants can flourish. It also has additional benefits beyond growing crops, such as climate regulation and buffering pollutants.
The regenerative nature of organic farming can restore soil health and prevent degradation by replenishing soil carbon and preserving biodiversity. A recent article in Organic Agriculture outlines specific strategies that impact soil health in the most effective way. Organic practices like composting, cover crops and mulching increase organic matter in the soil. Indeed, The Organic Center maintains that organically managed soils contain on average 13% more organic matter. This has many benefits on soil quality, such as increasing the nutrient and water availability to the plants. It also allows soil to host important microorganisms that suppress disease-causing pathogens. Limden Brook Organic say there are ‘more organisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the planet!’ The benefits of healthy soil and biodiversity are inherently interrelated.
The building of fertile soils is central to organic farming as it nourishes the crops without synthetic fertilisation. The Rodale Institute show that organic practices also increase nitrogen and carbon fixing in soils. Nitrogen fixing allows future crops to absorb nitrogen as a nutrient, which is essential to plant growth.
Moreover, organic soils have significantly higher levels of sequestered carbon, helping to reduce climate change. The increase in carbon and water storage, also helping to prevent flooding, is yet another reason why organic farming could be the solution to the climate emergency. While all Tend’s farms use organic practices, not all are certified due to the large cost for small farms. Nonetheless, buying organically farmed food protects wildlife, enriches soils, and supports sustainable farmers.