Which agriculture is better organic or modern

Benefits of organic farming

Basic information on ecological management

Organic farming has many positive effects on nature, people and animals: In addition to climate protection, organic farming also contributes to the preservation of biodiversity. It is all the more important that the proportion of organic farming increases.

Grain fields with poppies - Photo: Helge May

The year 1924 is now considered the birth of organic farming. Rudolf Steiner, also known as the initiator of Waldorf education and anthroposophic medicine, gave the first indications of the biodynamic economy, which is bundled under the Demeter trademark. In the thirties, Hans Müller then strived for an organic-biological economy free from the influences of the humanities. In both cases, organic farming included a material cycle that was as closed as possible, with special consideration given to soil fertility.

In 2011, an area of ​​an estimated 1,013,540 hectares was organically farmed in Germany, which corresponds to 6.1 percent of the agricultural area. Compared to the previous year, the growth rate was only 2.3 percent, while the increase from 2009 to 2010 was 5.4 percent. At the same time, the demand for organic food is increasing enormously. But converting to organic farming is too costly for many farmers and very risky, especially in the first two years. Public funding is not high enough to sufficiently cushion financial risks and competition from abroad is increasing: in 2011, every second organic apple and almost every second organic carrot was imported to meet the high demand.

The development of organic farming is an indicator in the federal government's sustainability strategy. The aim is to increase the organically farmed area to 20 percent of the total agriculturally used area. However, the federal government has not specified a year in which this goal should be achieved. At the current growth rate of 2.3 percent, it would take more than 50 years before the 20 percent target would be achieved.

From a nature conservation point of view, this is unsatisfactory because, compared to conventional agriculture, organic farming has many positive side effects for nature, people and animals:

  • Climate protection through 64 percent less use of fossil fuels and 62 percent lower CO2 emissions, which are mainly caused by the production of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
  • Soil protection by actively promoting soil life and soil fertility (humus management). As a result, the numbers of species and individuals in soil microorganisms and soil animals (e.g. earthworms) are many times higher, the soil is less compact and the humus content is higher.
  • Production of healthy plants and animals without the use of pesticides, nitrogen fertilizers and other easily soluble mineral fertilizers.
  • Protection of the cultural landscape through the targeted preservation of hedges, field trees and humid biotopes as habitats for beneficial insects. No monocultures.
  • Species protection through greater diversity: There are two to three times more wild herb species in organically farmed fields than in conventionally farmed fields. In addition, there are over 40 percent more ground beetles, runted winged beetles and spiders, twice as much butterfly species and up to six times as many breeding grounds and up to eight times higher population densities of birds.
  • Consumer protection by avoiding residues in drinking water and food due to lower nitrate and no pesticide pollution of groundwater and crops.
  • Preservation and creation of jobs and income in rural areas through up to 60 percent higher labor requirements and comparatively regional processing and marketing structures.

Legal regulations of the European Union

Organic farming has been regulated in a legal basis at EU level since 1991. The standards for plant-based agricultural products started here, and in 1993 the wild collection of plants was also included. The standards for animal husbandry have also been regulated since 2000. Rules on the organic labeling of plant and animal aquaculture were integrated into the regulations in 2009 and a new EU organic logo was introduced in April 2010. Organic standards for ecological winemaking have also been part of the EU guidelines since 2012.

The basic ordinance and its supplements contain rules for converting a company to organic farming. The import of organic farming products from countries that do not belong to the EU is also subject to the regulation.

Minimum criteria for organic farming according to EU guidelines:

  • No genetic engineering
  • No chemical-synthetic pesticides and easily soluble mineral fertilizers, but cultivation of less susceptible varieties
  • Green manuring by nitrogen-collecting plants and the use of slow-acting natural fertilizers
  • Care of the soil fertility through pronounced humus management
  • Varied crop rotations with catch crops
  • No chemical-synthetic growth regulators or hormones
  • Limited livestock, strictly bound to the area
  • Feeding the animals with organic and, if possible, with self-produced feed, little purchase of feed
  • Largely avoiding antibiotics
  • No irradiation of food in organic food production
  • Strong restriction on the use of additives

The organic farms have to undergo a routine control procedure once a year. This is carried out by independent control bodies that require state approval and are subject to monitoring by the respective state authority.

The association guidelines

More than half of the organic farms in Germany not “only” manage their farms in accordance with the EU minimum standards for organic farming, but are also members of one of the organic farming associations. This means that almost 70 percent of the organic cultivation area is cultivated according to the stricter ecological criteria of the various cultivation associations (figures for 2011).

These guidelines, which are largely based on the framework guidelines for organic farming of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ökologischer Landbau (AGÖL). The association guidelines go beyond the EU guidelines in many areas. For example, it is stipulated that the entire farm must always be converted to ecological farming. Companies that operate according to EU directives, on the other hand, can only convert individual branches of business. The association guidelines are usually more limited with regard to fertilizers and conventional feed, which can be bought in if necessary.

How do I recognize real organic products?

Lemonade with organic label - Photo: NABU / Sebastian Hennigs

The ecological cultivation associations in Germany are Bioland, Naturland, Demeter, Biokreis, Biopark, Gäa, Verbund Ökohöfe, Ecovin and Ecoland.

In June 2002 the Bund Ökologische Lebensmittelwirtschaft (BÖLW) was founded. Its aim is to promote the development of organic farming with the cooperation of various actors from cultivation associations, food processing and trade.

A large selection of organic products is now available in many supermarkets, on the market as well as in organic and natural food stores, farm shops or directly from organic farmers. As a general rule, the words “organic” or “eco” must not be used arbitrarily for food. Only manufacturers who meet the requirements of the EU organic regulation and who are subject to controls are entitled to sell their products as "organic" or "eco" goods. That means: If it says "organic", there is also "organic" inside.

In addition, organic products that are manufactured or packaged in Germany must have the code number of their responsible control body on the label, for example “DE-001-Öko-Kontrollstelle”.

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