The farm is where the organic process starts. Organic farmers try to stay close to nature, sourcing materials from their own farm wherever possible. One example is using manure and compost to improve the soil, which also prevents erosion and the loss of nutrients and water.
In addition, they try to conserve nature by using low-impact techniques, such as mechanical weeding instead of herbicides.
Respect for the environment and animal welfare
Maintaining soil fertility and respecting nature are essential aspects of organic farming. They are achieved by:
- using energy and natural resources responsibly
- maintaining biodiversity
- respecting regional environmental balances
- enhancing soil fertility
- preserving water quality
- promoting animal health and welfare
- catering for animals' specific needs
Organic farmers rely on long-standing agricultural practices such as keeping livestock healthy through regular exercise and free-range access to pasture. They also apply contemporary scientific knowledge, for example by monitoring nutrient levels to ensure optimum growth.
The EU regulation on organic farming stipulates that organic farmers are to maintain and enhance soil fertility and biological activity within the soil by rotating crops - including legumes and other green manure crops - over a number of years, and by applying manure or organic material, preferably composted, from organic production.
Under EU rules individual farmers are free to decide, using their practical knowledge and skills, which method or combination of methods is best for improving soil fertility. Whichever approach they take, it must work in harmony with nature and be beneficial to the environment.
The principles of organic farming also apply to the feed given to livestock. The regulations state that feed for organic livestock must be organically produced, although part of it may come from holdings that are switching to organic farming.
Examples of foods produced to meticulous organic standards which can be enjoyed in natural or processed form include:
- strawberries, apples and oranges
- tomatoes, carrots and broccoli
- milk from cows, goats, sheep, buffaloes or other animals
- eggs from chickens, quails or other poultry
- meat such as lamb, beef, chicken and pork
- grains such as oats, rice, wheat and barley
Organic farm inspections
Growth of the organic sector
Organic products enjoy widespread popularity,and are grown by large numbers of farmers across the EU. The latest Eurostat figures show that the organic production area was 9.6 million hectares in 2011, accounting for 5.4% of the 27 EU countries' total utilised agricultural area (UAA). According to Eurostat, there were 186 000 organic producers in 2010, 32% up on 2003.
Worldwide, 37.2 million hectares are used for organic production (including farms that are switching to organic) with at least 1.8 million producers, making up some 0.86% of total agricultural land. Seven EU countries are in the world top 10 for the highest proportion of land used for organic farming, according to the World of Organic Agriculture 2013.