What does organic mean?
Organic can refer to: material relating to or obtained from living things; chemical compounds comprising only of elements existing in or derived from plants or animals; or the process of growing food and other products without using artificial chemicals.
The methods used to produce food and other crops can have a direct and significant impact on the ecosystem in that specific area. Ecology is a strand of biology which studies the relationships and interactions between organisms and their surrounding environments, including the relationships with other organisms.
Organic products, edible or not, come from a crop grown under specific conditions that aim to work in partnership with the natural world rather than against it. Organic agriculture advocates the use of holistic management practices which avoid using harmful chemicals such as pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fertilisers.
Organic farming practices maintain and can enhance healthy ecosystems, promoting species biodiversity and soil health.
Pesticides and Insecticides
One of the main differences between conventional farming and organic farming is the use of synthetic chemicals to increase the output of a field. Pesticides are an effective and very harmful group of chemicals that are used to control unwanted 'pests' on crops. Insecticides are one type of pesticide that has been developed to target solely insects. These chemicals were initially created for conventional farming in order to eradicate unwanted wild plants and insects, resulting in a higher crop output.
The problem with targeting one type of organism is the overall impact on the ecosystem. Each ecosystem is carefully balanced with a diverse group of plants, insects and other animals. When one species is removed from the system it can put a lot of pressure on the rest of the food chain. For example, if the numbers of insects are in decline due to the use of insecticides, the birds that feed on these insects will also start to decline in numbers due to the lack of available food. A change in the balance of an ecosystem can cause irreparable damage, and these indirect effects of chemical use are constantly being investigated and could be more widespread than we know.
One of the most critical consequences of insecticide use is the steep decline in pollinators. Pollinators are species that play an active role in carrying pollen from one flower to another, resulting in fertilisation. Many species act as pollinators, including mammals and birds, but the most common pollinators are insects, and of those, bees, wasps and butterflies are some of the most well known.
This steep decline in some of our most common pollinators is thought to be due to a decline in wildflowers, both in our cities and countryside, and as a result of insecticides that contain neonicotinoid - also known as neonics.
Neonics work by attacking the nerve cells of the insect, compromising their behaviour and often killing them directly. Neonics are used on more than 140 different types of crop, from apples, tomatoes, wheat, rice and soy beans. Neonics were invented, sold and used widely from the 1990s. The EU banned the most dangerous neonics in 2018, but not the entire group, and unfortunately the ban covers EU production only, not production outside of the EU.
Pollinators are a vital part of bringing life to the next generation of trees, fruits, flowers, grains and vegetables. We rely on pollinators for much of the food that we consume and for creating a stable ecosystem.
The conventional way of farming that focuses on maximum field output is damaging nature in exchange for a short-term benefit and economic profits.
When farming organically, you’ll generally get a lower field output across all crops but you will be supporting our vital ecosystems and the species of plants and animals that we rely on.