The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements defines organic agriculture as follows (IFOAM, 2009): "Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved."
Organic farming and gardening practices (Barker 2010) have gained some momentum in recent years. In many ways, these practices can be safer both to the farmer and the consumer than those that use synthetic pesticides. However, the consumer should be aware that plants produce their own natural defenses and that organic farmers may use naturally derived pesticides. Independent studies involving direct comparison of organic methods with synthetic pesticide treatments are severely lacking (Letourneau and Bothwell 2008). Research needs to be conducted in a broad-minded manner by independent researchers without an agenda of profiting from a product or portraying the commercial pesticide industry as a villain. Farmers and home gardeners need to be shown that there are viable pest management alternatives without just preying on their fears. Scientific evidence supporting organic methods needs to be delivered in a manner that growers and consumers can understand it while still providing enough detail that they can come to their own conclusions.
Field experiments on the DeMilia Research Farm conducted for the purpose of plant disease predictive model research will also be used to determine the effectiveness of organic farming practices in comparison to synthetic pesticides for individual plant diseases. As we conduct this research, the results will be summarized here and incorporated into the DemiAg Grower's Guide. After more than a year of preparation, 2014 was our first full growing season and we only tested untreated controls. For the 2015 growing season, we focused on crop production techniques and only a few pesticide applications were made. For the 2016 growing season, procedures and practices are being developed for use in future plant disease studies including the evaluation of synthetic vs. organic insecticide treatments. Our goal is to use the least toxic treatment for insect control as possible to obtain acceptable levels of crop damage. In contrast to experiments in future years, treatment regiments have not been pre-defined and are being determined on an as needed basis. Some crops may not require any insecticide treatment at all. We are also trying to establish when we really need to use herbicides versus when weeds can be controlled entirely by cultural practices and cultivation. In 2017, we will be continuing these efforts and collecting data on the natural levels of plant diseases on the farm for the purpose of establishing future experimental protocols. In 2018, we will begin evaluating fungicides and organic plant disease treatments.
- Barker, A. V. (2010). Science and technology of organic farming. Boca Raton, FL, CRC Press. IFOAM, 2009. Definition of Organic Agriculture. IFOAM, Bonn, Germany.
- Letourneau, D. K. and S. G. Bothwell (2008). "Comparison of organic and conventional farms: challenging ecologists to make biodiversity functional." Front Ecol Environ 6(8): 430-438.
Coming soon. Synthetic vs. organic insecticide treatments field observations made during the 2016 growing season.