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Key Points on Organic Farming

By Eliot Coleman

The most exciting feature of organic farming is its enlightened understanding of the relationship between plants and pests. Insects and diseases are not seen as enemies. Rather, they are seen as indicators – indicators that the growing conditions are inadequate for the physiological needs of the plant. Pests are bringing a message that the plants are under stress.

• When we use pesticides we are basically shooting the messenger and ignoring the message. This view of the plant/pest relationship is known as the “healthy plant theory” or the “plant-stress hypothesis”. The fact is we see the truth of it on our farm every day. When we have created growing conditions that meet the needs of the crop, there are no pests or diseases to contend with. Numerous scientific studies support our practical experience.

• The foundation of organic farming rests upon the creation of a biologically active fertile soil. I define organic farming by the benefits derived from that fertile soil rather than by its rejection of unnecessary chemicals.

• If organic farming offers nothing beyond rules restricting modern industrial inputs, then it really offers nothing revolutionary. If, however, it is appreciated that, when correctly done, the biologically based soil fertility practices focused on organic compost, green manures, natural minerals, crop rotations, cover crops, mixed stocking, etc. can support vigorous crops and livestock that are insusceptible to pests, a whole new world of agricultural science opens up.

• The concept of achieving plant and animal health (and, by extension, human health) through enhancing nature’s elegant processes showcases the potential of organic farming to restructure our entire human understanding of living systems.

• Since the soil fertility practices mentioned above nurture the built-in biological support processes of the natural world, knowledgeable organic farmers buy very few inputs. Those age-old techniques are all management practices, freely available to any farmer who is paying attention.

• In a well researched 1975 study from Washington University comparing organic and chemical farms, Barry Commoner noted ruefully how agriculture got to where it is today:

“One can almost admire the enterprise and clever salesmanship of the petro-chemical industry. Somehow it has managed to convince the farmer that he should give up the free solar energy that drives the natural cycles and, instead, buy the needed energy from the petro-chemical industry.”

• The self-resourced, farm-generated soil fertility techniques that power a biologically focused agriculture are logically anathema to any industry based on selling expensive inputs. That is why the agricultural chemical companies try so hard to discredit organic farming.

"Information is like compost; it does no good unless you spread it around."

- Eliot Coleman