Integrating animal husbandry into crop producing farms is one of the principles of organic farming. In temperate and arid zones, animal husbandry plays an important role in the recycling of nutrients, while it is less emphasised in the humid tropics. The caring, training, and nurturing of animals is considered an art in many farming communities.
The choice of high quality organic seed and plant propagation material of suitable varieties is an important key to successful organic farming, allowing for improved yield and product quality, for crop resilience, considerate use of non-renewable resources and for increased genetic and species diversity. This practices describes the principles of plant propagation in organic farming, as well as the importance of the use of traditional varieties and their conservation.
Soil cultivation includes all mechanical measures to loosen, turn or mix the soil, such as ploughing, tilling, digging, hoeing, harrowing etc. Careful soil cultivation can improve the soil‘s capacity to retain water, its aeration, capacity of infiltration, warming up, evaporation etc. But soil cultivation can also harm the soil fertility as it accelerates erosion and the decomposition of humus. There is not one right way to cultivate the soil, but a range of options. Depending on the cropping system and the soil type, appropriate soil cultivation patterns must be developed.
Organic farmers give first priority to prevention of the introduction and multiplication of weeds. The management practices aim at keeping the weed population at a level that does not result in economic loss of the crop cultivation or harm its quality. The goal is not to completely eradicate all weeds, as they also have a role to play on the farm. For example, weeds provide cover that reduces soil erosion. In addition, most of the biological diversity in our crop fields comes from the presence of weeds. They provide habitat for both beneficial biocontrol insects and mycorrhiza fungi. Because weeds offer pollen and nectar they allow biocontrol insects to maintain their populations and, therefore, serve as a valuable instrument in controlling pests.
Pest and disease management consists of a range of activities that support each other. Most management practices are long-term activities that aim at preventing pests and diseases from affecting a crop. Management focuses on keeping existing pest populations and diseases low. Control on the other and is a short-term activity and focuses on killing pest and disease. The general approach in organic agriculture to deal with the causes of a problem rather than treating the symptoms also applies for pest and diseases. Therefore, management is of a much higher priority than control. This document describes preventive practices, as well as control practices using biological, mechanical control and natural pesticides.
Soil is a living system and soil fertility is the key to agricultural productivity. The maintenance of the fertility of the soil is the primary step in any agricultural system. The plethora of microorganism inherent in any soil system ensures that nutrient cycle is in place and the large substrate is broken down to minute particles that can be easy assimilated by the plant’s root system. Therefore farmers should maintain the inherent soil fertility by replacing the nutrients removed by the crops or livestock grazing by using green manures, animal manures (raw or composted) and other natural fertilizers (e.g. rock phosphate).
In many traditional agricultural systems a diversity of crops in time or space can be found. Knowing that different plants have different requirements for nutrients, a good crop planning and management is required in order to optimise the use of nutrient in the soil. Crop rotation, intercropping, cover crops and green manures represent the main alternatives to the farmers to manage soil health and fertility. The first three practices will be described in this section.
Scarcity of water for agriculture is a common phenomenon in many countries. In some regions it is almost impossible to grow crops without irrigation. Even in areas with large amounts of rainfall in the rainy season, crops may get short of water during dry periods.
Organic farming aims at optimising the use of on-farm resources and at a sustainable use of natural resources. Active water retention, water harvesting and storing of water are important practices, especially for organic farmers. Organic farmers know that it is more important to first improve the water retention and the infiltration of water into the soil.
Mulching is the process of covering the topsoil with plant material such as leaves, grass, twigs, crop residues, straw etc. A mulch cover enhances the activity of soil organisms such as earthworms. They help to create a soil structure with plenty of smaller and larger pores through which rainwater can easily infiltrate into the soil, thus reducing surface runoff. As the mulch material decomposes, it increases the content of organic matter in the soil. Soil organic matter helps to create a good soil with stable crumb structure. Thus the soil particles will not be easily carried away by water. Therefore, mulching plays a crucial role in preventing soil erosion.
The procedure of conversion of a farm commonly consists of three steps. In a first step, it is recommended to collect information on appropriate organic farming practices. In a second step, the most promising organic practices should be tried out on selected plots or fields to get familiar with. In a third step, only organic procedures should be implemented in the entire farm. Support from an experienced extension officer or a farmer is usually very helpful to give guidance in the process.