By Frank A. Hilario

After Appreciating Climate Change (1st of a series), we are now tackling Organic Farming because, scientists tell us, and I, as a disciple of organic farming for 50 years, am convinced myself, that organic farming has a big, big role to play in what citizens can do to fight climate change, and in a manner, that is very much intelligent.

I first learned about organic farming more than 50 years ago when I read about trash farming. I began writing about organic farming in the mid-1960s —the very first individual to do so in the Philippines, including in the Philippines Free Press. UP Los Baños professors only began mentioning it many, many decades later.

Today, many are talking about organic farming – but not quite knowledgeably. Organic farming applies to Agriculture and the related scientific fields of Forestry and Horticulture. To simplify: Agriculture is growing field crops; Forestry is growing tree crops; and Horticulture is growing farm &garden crops; except for Animal Husbandry in Agriculture, they all concern the growing of crops.

You really have to appreciate the philosophy of organic farming to help you grow an organic farm or garden produce, teach or write about the subject with confidence.

“What is the essence of organic farming?” What follows are several technical answers; we will study them to come up with our own clear understanding of the subject. It cannot be that you will understand immediately; you have to think through. Here are the results of my Google searches:

About materials used

Essentially, organic farming makes use of compost, manure, peat moss, and other natural fertilizers in the cultivation of farms or gardens (Anonymous, 19 January 2003, “Organic Farming,” PhilStar Global, philstar.com).

Yes, organic farming involves both farms and gardens. But, no, Sir! The natural fertilizers do not constitute the essentials of organic farming, no matter how good those natural fertilizers are. Next reference, please.

About quality of the ecosystem

Organic farming is a farming technique that sustains, enhances and maintains the quality of the ecosystem. Consequently, organic farming does not have harmful and deteriorating effects on the ecosystem (toppr.com).

Among other things, the author does not explain what is meant by the “quality of the ecosystem” – what is the “ecosystem” anyway? For the moment, let us use the word “environment” as equivalent to “ecosystem” – now, what are those harmful and deteriorating effects on the environment? Not listed. Next reference, please.

About health of the land

Organic agriculture originated as a response to a growing awareness that the health of the land is linked to the health and future of the people. It is a holistic and philosophical approach to agriculture, which has as its goals the protection and conservation of the land for future generations, the production of high-quality food, the return to many traditional agricultural methods, and the harmonious balance with a complex series of ecosystems. Land, water, plants, animals, and people are all seen as interlinked and interdependent” (Anonymous, encyclopedia.com, encyclopedia.com).

Too long, too complicated. The health of the land is linked to the health and future of the people. That is important. If your soil is healthy, the crops that grow are also healthy. The anonymous encyclopedia author says, “Land, water, plants, animals, and people are all seen as interlinked and interdependent” – that is a good way of describing organic agriculture, but there’s no explanation. Next reference, please.

About soil fertility and pest problems

In essence, organic farmers manage soil fertility… and combat pest problems (including insects, weeds, fungi, nematodes, and diseases) in a different way than conventional farmers. Management methods may include, for example, changes in inputs (crop varieties and livestock breeds; nutrients; predators), rotations (more and different crops and livestock), and timing of activities (planting dates and harvesting dates) (Els Wynen, orgprints.org).

Wynen is pointing out four major differences between organic agriculture (OA) and chemical agriculture (CA). OA uses (1) a different type of fertilizer; (2) different crop varieties; (3) different crop and livestock mixes and rotations; and (4) changes planting and harvesting dates. OA is more complicated. But its inputs and outputs are healthier for human bodies, crops and livestock, and the environment. OA has biodiversity, or a mix of crops, that CA does not have. But the essence of OA is not clear yet. We have to read more.

About natural life cycle systems

Put simply, organic farming is an agricultural system that seeks to provide you, the consumer, with fresh, tasty and authentic food while respecting natural life-cycle systems (philstar.com).

So, organic farming gives us authentic food, that is, food not full of laboratory-made nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, not to mention, pesticide residues.

So, natural life-cycle systems – for instance, you produce compost as fertilizer using earthworms, waiting for those creatures to “do their thing” as their nature allows them.

Three popular organic fertilizers prepared by farmers themselves today are the bokashi, fermented plant juice (FPJ), and vermicompost, the last produced by cultivated earthworms. Bokashi is added as tea for watering. Both FPJ and vermicompost are applied to the soil.

The word “organic” means “of, relating to, or derived from living organisms such as “organic matter” (American Heritage Dictionary, thefreedictionary.com).

So, based on all of the above, here’s my highly original and non-technical definition:

Organic farming is the incorporation into the soil of once-living matter that then provides natural nutrients to crops to grow healthy and thereby produce healthy fruits.

Organic fertilizer is okay – if the organic matter content was (1) not grown with chemical fertilizers, (2) not sprayed with chemical pesticides, and (3) not genetically modified organism.

You can produce your own organic fertilizer using weeds, stubble, crop leftover, leaves, mulch, compost, manure, or any combination.

Or, you can simply incorporate those into the soil via very shallow cultivation using rotavator blades; this is trash farming.

So, with organic farming, you grow healthier and more productive crops without adding to greenhouse gases that cause global warming!

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2019 issue.