Organic Agriculture ≠ Equal No Spray
As a plant pathologist who has researched diseases of cacao (the chocolate tree), my work is an interesting topic for conversation at dinner parties. There are two comments I commonly receive when discussing my research on the organic production of cacao. The first always is, “It must be wonderful to work on chocolate”. It was a wonderful experience full of interesting meetings, international research and delicious chocolate samplings. The second most common comment I receive is, “It is so great that you are helping farmers so that they do not need to spray their crops.” Contrary to this belief, organic agriculture does not automatically mean that chemicals are not applied on the crops. While organic producers cannot use synthetic (man-made) chemical pesticides or genetically engineered plants, they still need to control the weeds, insects, and pathogens (bacteria or fungus), that can ruin their crops and livelihood.
Organic producers use a large toolset to manage pests and diseases on their farm, which include a wide range of natural chemicals such as insecticidal soaps, insects (such as ladybuys that eat aphids) and microbial biopesticides (chemicals derived from natural materials such as animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals) to manage pests. These means to reduce pests are not limited to organic production, as they can also be used by conventional producers.
Organic production is influenced by governmental regulations and policies. Biopesticides must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs, the same office that regulates synthetic pesticides. The Office of Pesticide Programs ensures that biopesticides will not cause unreasonable risk to the environment or human health when used as directed. Alternatively, fertilizers (unlike pesticides) are regulated by programs in each individual state. Additionally, producers and business that grow, handle and process organic products must be certified by the National Organic Program of United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service. After certification, annual on-site inspections ensure organic standards are met, and a residue testing program verifies that prohibited pesticides are not being used.
Organic farmers not only need the skillset to operate a farm, such a welding, mechanics, carpentry, and marketing, but also must know how to navigate the regulations and policies involved in running an organic.
Image: taken from Wikipedia Commons.
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