More land around the world is being dedicated to organic farming. The Worldwatch Institute says since 1999 there’s been a more than three-fold increase to 37 million hectares. That’s about 91 million acres.
“Organic farming is farming without chemical inputs, like pesticides and fertilizers. Instead of using those inputs it uses a variety of natural techniques, like rotating crops and applying compost to fields – and growing crops that will return nutrients to the soil naturally instead of via chemicals,” said Worldwatch researcher Laura Reynolds, who co-authored a new report on the growth of organic agriculture.
She said it has a range of public health and environmental benefits.
“It delivers fewer pesticides and chemicals to what we eat and to the farmers growing the food. It also delivers a range of economic benefits to farmers growing organically because they found they can get a much higher price if their food is certified organic,” she said.
Last year, Stanford University researchers said that they “did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives.” They based their findings on a review of previous studies on the subject.
Ms. Reynolds said, “I agree that it won’t change the nutritional content of certain foods, probably cereals. That’s not the entire point of growing organically. If you look at chemicals and toxic elements in the food, there’s definitely a huge difference. So, if you’re getting all of your nutrients, but you’re also eating chemicals, then you sort of want to know the whole story. I found that that report looked at a very small element of organic food.”
Worldwatch says the Oceania region has most of the certified organic agricultural land – more than 12 million hectares spread over Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island nations. Europe is next with 10 million hectares, followed by Latin America with 8.4 million. Asia has about three million hectares devoted to organic farming and Africa about one million.
The study says the United States has “lagged behind other countries in adopting sustainable farming methods.” However, sales of organic foods in the U.S. are rising rapidly, amounting to $31.5 billion in 2011.
In order to be certified organic, farmers must keep strict records of how they grow their crops. There’s a lot of red tape or bureaucracy involved and it can be an expensive process.