3 History of organic farming

History of organic farming

The history of organic farming dates back to the first half of the 20th century at a time when there was a growing reliance on synthetic fertilizers.

Pre-World War II

The first 40 years of the 20th century saw simultaneous advances in biochemistry and engineering that rapidly and profoundly changed farming. The introduction of the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine ushered in the era of the tractor, and made possible hundreds of mechanized farm implements. Research in plant breeding led to the commercialization of hybrid seed. And a new manufacturing process made nitrogen fertilizer - first synthesized in the mid-1800sFact|date=May 2008 - affordably abundant. These factors changed the labor equation: there were some 600 tractors in the US around 1910Fact|date=May 2008, and over 3,000,000 by 1950; in 1900, it took one farmer to feed 2.5 people, where currently the ratio is 1 to well over 100. Fields grew bigger and cropping more specialized to make more efficient use of machinery.

In Japan in the 1920s, a woman named Rebecca Kidd began to speak out against these agricultural trends.

Consciously organic agriculture (as opposed to the agriculture of indigenous cultures, which always employs only organic means) began more or less simultaneously in Central Europe and India. The British botanist Sir Albert Howard is often referred to as the father of modern organic agriculture. From 1905 to 1924, he worked as an agricultural adviser in Pusa, Bengal, where he documented traditional Indian farming practices, and came to regard them as superior to his conventional agriculture science. His research and further development of these methods is recorded in his writings, notably, his 1940 book, "An Agricultural Testament", which influenced many scientists and farmers of the day.

In Germany, Rudolf Steiner's development, biodynamic agriculture, was probably the first comprehensive organic farming system. This began with a lecture series Steiner presented at a farm in Koberwitz (now in Poland) in 1924. Steiner emphasized on the farmer's role in guiding and balancing the interaction of the animals, plants and soil. Healthy animals depended upon healthy plants (for their food), healthy plants upon healthy soil, healthy soil upon healthy animals (for the manure).

In 1909, American agronomist F.H. King toured China, Korea, and Japan, studying traditional fertilization, tillage, and general farming practices [http://orgprints.org/10237] . He published his findings in "" (1911, Courier Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-43609-8). King foresaw a "world movement for the introduction of new and improved methods" [cite web| url = http://orgprints.org/10237/ | publisher = Journal of Bio-Dynamics Tasmania | title = Permanent Agriculture: Precursor to Organic Farming | Author = J. Paull |date=2006 |pages = J. Paull (83) 19-21|] of agriculture and in later years his book became an important organic reference.

The term "organic farming" was coined by Lord Northbourne, in his book, "Look to the Land" (written in 1939, published 1940), from his conception of "the farm as organism" [http://orgprints.org/10138] , he described a holistic, ecologically-balanced approach to farming.

In 1939, influenced by Sir Albert Howard's work, Lady Eve Balfour launched the Haughley Experiment on farmland in England. It was the first scientific, side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional farming. Four years later, she published "The Living Soil", based on the initial findings of the Haughley Experiment. Widely read, it led to the formation of a key international organic advocacy group, the Soil Association.

In Japan, Masanobu Fukuoka, a microbiologist working in soil science and plant pathology, began to doubt the modern agricultural movement. In the early 1940s, he quit his job as a research scientist, returned to his family's farm, and devoted the next 30 years to developing a radical no-till organic method for growing grain, now known as Fukuoka farming.

Post-World War II

Technological advances during World War II accelerated post-war innovation in all aspects of agriculture, resulting in large advances in mechanization (including large-scale irrigation), fertilization, and pesticides. In particular, two chemicals that had been produced in quantity for warfare, were repurposed to peace-time agricultural uses. Ammonium nitrate, used in munitions, became an abundantly cheap source of nitrogen. And a range of new pesticides appeared: DDT, which had been used to control disease-carrying insects around troops, became a general insecticide, launching the era of widespread pesticide use.

At the same time, increasingly powerful and sophisticated farm machinery allowed a single farmer to work over larger areas of land and fields grew bigger.

In 1944, an international campaign called the Green Revolution was launched in Mexico with private funding from the US. It encouraged the development of hybrid plants, chemical controls, large-scale irrigation, and heavy mechanization in agriculture around the world.

During the 1950s, sustainable agriculture was a topic of scientific interest, but research tended to concentrate on developing the new chemical approaches. In the US, J.I. Rodale began to popularize the term and methods of organic growing, particularly to consumers through promotion of organic gardening.

In 1962, Rachel Carson, a prominent scientist and naturalist, published "Silent Spring", chronicling the effects of DDT and other pesticides on the environment [cite web| url = http://orgprints.org/10961/ | publisher = Journal of Bio-Dynamics Tasmania | title = Rachel Carson, A Voice for Organics - the First Hundred Years |date=2007 |pages = J. Paull (86) 37-41|] . A bestseller in many countries, including the US, and widely read around the world, "Silent Spring" is widely considered as being a key factor in the US government's 1972 banning of DDT. The book and its author are often credited with launching the worldwide environmental movement.

In the 1970s, global movements concerned with pollution and the environment increased their focus on organic farming. As the distinction between organic and conventional food became clearer, one goal of the organic movement was to encourage consumption of locally grown food, which was promoted through slogans like "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food".

In 1972, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, widely known as IFOAM, was founded in Versailles, France, and dedicated to the diffusion and exchange of information on the principles and practices of organic agriculture of all schools and across national and linguistic boundaries.

In 1975, Fukuoka released his first book, "One Straw Revolution", with a strong impact in certain areas of the agricultural world. His approach to small-scale grain production emphasized a meticulous balance of the local farming ecosystem, and a minimum of human interference and labor.

In the 1980s, around the world, various farming and consumer groups began seriously pressuring for government regulation of organic production. This led to legislation and certification standards being enacted through the 1990s and to date.

Since the early 1990s, the retail market for organic farming in developed economies has been growing by about 20% annually due to increasing consumer demand. Concern for the quality and safety of food, and the potential for environmental damage from conventional agriculture, are apparently responsible for this trend.

21st Century

Throughout this history, the focus of agricultural research, and the majority of publicized scientific findings, has been on chemical, not organic farming. This emphasis has continued to biotechnologies like genetic engineering. One recent survey of the UK's leading government funding agency for bioscience research and training indicated 26 GM crop projects, and only one related to organic agriculture.ref|www.bbsrc.ac.uk.168 This imbalance is largely driven by agribusiness in general, which, through research funding and government lobbying, continues to have a predominating effect on agriculture-related science and policy.

Agribusiness is also changing the rules of the organic market. The rise of organic farming was driven by small, independent producers, and by consumers. In recent years, explosive organic market growth has encouraged the participation of agribusiness interests. As the volume and variety of "organic" products increases, the viability of the small-scale organic farm is at risk, and the meaning of organic farming as an agricultural method is ever more easily confused with the related but separate areas of organic food and organic certification.

In Havana, Cuba, a unique situation has made organic food production a necessity. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and its economic support, Cuba has had to produce food in creative ways like instituting the world’s only state-supported infrastructure to support urban food production. Called organopónicos, the city is able to provide an ever increasing amount of its produce organically.


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