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Increasing agricultural sustainability through organic farming

The U.S. agricultural system is highly productive, yet many current practices are associated with degradation to water, air, soil and biodiversity. Many studies have demonstrated that organic farming practices not only reduce negative environmental impacts but also can be applied within conventional operations to improve their sustainability. To increase the adoption of conservation farming practices, it is crucial that agricultural policymakers, educators and scientists recognize that organic farming is a key tool for meeting conservation objectives. Furthermore, they must work together to reduce barriers that hinder farmer adoption of organic farming.

A new report from the Organic Center is based on presentations and discussions that took place at the 2016 Organic Confluences: A Summit to Turn Environmental Evidence into Policy Practice. It covers the current research on the environmental impacts of agricultural practices commonly used in organic farming in the areas of soil health, water quality, biodiversity, native pollinators, and climate change mitigation. It discusses barriers that constrain adoption of environmentally friendly organic practices on farms, and provides recommendations to increase the adoption of sustainable farming practices on existing and transitioning organic farms.

Presentations and discussions from the conference established that numerous long- and short-term studies demonstrate that organic practices can play an important role in improving the health of our planet. Facilitating the adoption of organic farming practices that promote natural resource conservation provides an opportunity to improve the environmental sustainability of our agricultural system. However, barriers such as access to resources, risk perception, conflict among regulatory programs, and lack of connectivity among agricultural educators, scientists, and policymakers often hinder farmer adoption of environmentally friendly farming techniques.

Increasing the adoption of environmentally friendly best practices on farms is complex, requiring the management of numerous competing pressures. Improvements in research, policy, and extension and communication among the three can change the balance of competing factors. Addressing the challenges discussed in this report, including the reduction of competing production, marketing and regulatory tensions, will increase adoption of on-farm conservation practices on existing organic farms while facilitating new organic farmer transition to environmentally friendly organic farming, creating a pathway for farmers to increase the use of conservation practices.

Download the report here.

Publication date: 6/14/2017



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