We all are acquainted with the fact that organic farming is a farming technique which basically cut off all the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for contributing to enhancement of sustainability in ecological, economic and social aspects. It basically constitutes of four principles i.e. principle of health, care, ecology and fairness. If we try to compare even the overall energy inputs in organic farming and modern farming, obviously, due to heavy mechanization and chemicalization, energy requirements of modern farming is higher. The research conducted in Turkey observed that energy input was 23% lower in organic farms than that of modern farms. Furthermore, it was observed that renewable energy form of input was 23.92% of the total energy on organic production whereas that of modern farming was only 6.27% of the total energy. So, on the basis of this report also we can easily see the difference in the energy inputs on organic and modern farms.
For further detailing the role of organic agriculture in reducing non-renewable resources of energy, we can consider certain management strategy adopted in organic farming and compare that with modern farming systems.
By ensuring the soil health and nutrients through different techniques such as use of compost and vermi-compost, green manures, animal manure, and through several crop management practices such as incorporation of leguminous plant, crop rotation , cover crop, etc., the plethora of microorganisms inherent in soil system ensures that nutrient cycle is in place and large substrate is broken down to minute particles that can be easily assimilated by plant root system.
However, in modern farming, nutrient requirement is fulfilled by using synthetic fertilizers. The most widely used fertilizer is Nitrogen, followed by Phosphorous and Potassium. Not only is the nitrogen fertilizer produced from raw materials of fossil fuel but conversion process to usable fertilizer is also energy intensive. For example, the production of one ton of nitrogen fertilizer utilizes one and half ton of equivalent petrol. Furthermore, not only the production sector of fertilizer requires non-renewable energy, the transportation and even the application rely on the use of non-renewable resources. According to Soil Association, largest portion of energy utilized in conventional farming on average i.e. 37% of total energy is synthetic fertilizer and chemical pesticides only. Energy consumption through use of fertilizers accounted between 25-68% of total energy.
Insect pest management:
Insect pest are managed in organic farms generally by adopting various biological and cultural practices such as crop rotation, push and pull strategy, diversification, habitat management, beneficial organism release, botanicals, sanitation, temporal alteration, use of traps, etc. Pests are kept under control by creating such an environment that maintains natural balance between pests and their natural enemy. Generally, keeping the pest population under ETL is major target rather than eradicating it completely.
However, in modern farming, insect pest management is generally done by using pesticides. Similar to the case of fertilizers, the energy burden of these agro-chemicals stems mainly from their manufacture and transport beside their application which utilizes lot of non-renewable resources.
Weed management in organic farm is generally practiced by following cultural and mechanical techniques such as crop rotation, mulching, tillage, cultivation, water management and manual weeding.
However, in modern farming, different agro-chemicals as herbicides and weedicides are utilized for getting control over weeds. The use of these chemicals again utilizes non-renewable energy from production till application. These farms basically ignore the ecological roles of weeds as in providing habitat for beneficial insects, leguminous weeds with potential to fix nitrogen, etc. So they try to eradicate them completely from the field.
Soil borne diseases are generally managed by improving organic matter and biological activity. Cultural, biological and physical methods such as crop rotation, sanitation, pruning and selection of disease resistant variety are all part of organic disease management.
However, in modern farming, synthetic disease managing options are utilized which largely utilizes the non-renewable source of energy during its production, transportation and application.
Mechanization and irrigation:
Farming practices and mechanization greatly influence energy use. Mechanical seeding, pesticide application, greenhousing, flame-weeding, pump irrigation etc. are all high energy use practices that significantly use non- renewable resources. These types of high energy inputs are basically lower in case of organic farms as compared to modern farms. Generally, higher soil organic matter generated by organic practices and mulching practices retains water better than soil from conventional farms.
Modern farms typically rely on an off-farm supply of concentrated feed, while organic systems more often source their livestock forage locally or produce it directly on the farm. Thus, the non-renewable resources generally are less utilized in organic farm on animal rearing than on conventional farms.
From harvesting to drying, threshing, storage, processing upto distribution, large amount of non-renewable energy are being used. However, these agricultural operation are generally not taken into consideration for defining the energy uses in farms. As per report by US, operation of food systems from production upto distribution of final products accounts for about 19% of national fossil fuel energy use.
However, as compared to modern farming, due to less use of sophisticated machineries, preservatives, etc. And due to maximizing the incorporations of various indigenous technologies for harvesting, cleaning, storage, milling and other several postharvest practices, organic farming generally utilizes less non-renewable resources.
From all the above discussions, we hereby come to know that why organic farming is more sustainable and utilizes fewer amounts of non-renewable resources as compared to modern farming. However, utilization of renewable energy sources in organic agriculture is a win-win situation for farmers. By switching to more renewable forms of energy, farmer would be able to fulfil their energy needs by themselves, help addressing climate change through reduction in emission of GHGs, prevent environmental pollution and save money in long run . Although switching to renewable energy is initially expensive, the long term costs end up being cheaper than if we were to continue to use fossil fuels. This is because, after the cost of installation, these options continue to produce energy almost without additional cost for a longer period of time.
Several forms of renewable energy that could be installed and utilized in farms are as follows:
Solar energy can generally be utilized in solar dryers for dying crops, solar heater for using in livestock rearing, heating greenhouses, power for product grinding, water pumping , compressor and pump for fish farming and for other several agricultural operations.
In the place where wind power generation is possible, this could be best alternative for many non-renewable sources. Wind power can be directly used or stored in battery. Electricity could be generated using wind turbine which can be used for several agricultural practices replacing the use of non-renewable resources.
In the area with steady water flow, hydro-energy can be used for several purposes ranging from production of electricity to running water mills.
Biofuel present an opportunity to further utilize captured solar energy and minimize external energy inputs needed for agricultural systems. Aim of biofuel is to reduce complete dependency on non-renewable energy sources and to mitigate environmental damage of fossil fuel emission.
Hence, from all the above discussions, we can reach to the conclusion that organic farming is really best approach toward sustainability and reduction in the use of non-renewable resources. The world’s growing energy need, alongside increasing population led to continual use of fossil fuel based energy sources (mostly coal, oil and gas) which become problematic by creating several challenges such as depletion of fossil fuel reserves, GHG emissions and other environmental concerns, geo-political and military conflicts, and continual fuel price fluctuations. In this regard, renewable energy stands as outstanding alternative and the cornerstone to steer our energy system in direction of sustainability and supply security. Various study have also suggested that renewable energy technology are suitable for any location in world with additional benefits of earning carbon credits as compared with conventional fossil fuel based technologies for agricultural production.
Thus, encapsulating, organic agriculture holds great potential for pioneering energy reducing practices through framework of organic standard. Organic principles, which emphasize on environmental stewardship, farm-level self-sufficiency and exclusion of the incorporation of external inputs, can be leveraged to develop strategies for limiting use of fossil fuel based energy.