What makes food organic?
Organic farming is practiced on many farms, and a variety of foods can be organic, including fruits, vegetables, wheat, meat, dairy products, and more. But what criteria does it take for a food to be certified as organic? Here’s an overview.
Fruits, vegetables, and wheat
Produce and grains must be grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers to be certified as organic. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are also not acceptable. Growers must practice crop rotation to prevent the depletion of nutrients from the soil and improve harvests.
Meat, fish, and poultry
Animal breeding must be done under decent living conditions, without cages, and in a sufficiently spacious environment. Livestock must receive adequate health care and be fed with organic foods. The use of antibiotics and growth hormones is also prohibited.
Organically processed foods must not contain preservatives or artificial colors, or flavors. The USDA does approve some non-agricultural ingredients, such as baking soda in baked goods and pectin in jams. In addition, food irradiation, which kills certain microorganisms, must not be practiced.
In addition to being grown using eco-friendly practices, organic foods are good for your health. Encourage your local organic food producers by buying their fruits, vegetables, meats, grains, and other goods.
Why small farms make a big difference
Despite the continuing shift in production to larger farms in the United States, the contribution of small family farms is still considerable. According to the USDA, small farms and ranches number nearly two million and generate 15 percent of production. Here’s why small farms can make a big difference.
1. They’re more productive. Smaller farms are more productive per hectare than significantly larger farms. They also tend to have more dependable yields. This is in part because they employ diversified farming systems.
2. They increase diversity. Large farms tend to plant monocultures because heavy machinery makes them easy to manage. By contrast, small farms typically grow wider varieties of crops, contributing to agrobiodiversity, which is essential to sustainable food systems.
3. They safeguard the environment. Small farms have a vested interest in protecting their soil’s fertility and their land’s long-term productivity. Consequently, they act as land stewards for future generations and employ more sustainable farming practices than large, conventional farms.
It’s important to support small family farms whenever possible to ensure they continue to grow and thrive. You can help by shopping at your neighborhood farmer’s market, spreading the word about locally grown products, and requesting your corner store sell more goods from nearby growers.
4 benefits of supporting local farmers
This year, National Ag Day is celebrated on March 21. The theme is Agriculture: Growing a Climate for Tomorrow. This campaign encourages Americans to recognize and celebrate the farmers, ranchers, foresters, farmworkers, and other agricultural stewards across the United States. In honor of this event, here are four benefits of supporting local farmers.
1. Protect the environment. Most small, local farmers employ sustainable growing practices to minimize their environmental impact. Moreover, when food products don’t have to be shipped across the country, it reduces air pollution and minimizes the amount of packaging that ends up in landfills.
2. Eat healthier. The less distance your food travels, the less chance for contamination, expiration, and other issues. Besides, seasonal fruits and vegetables taste better and have a higher nutrition content.
3. Bolster the community. Supporting local farmers means supporting the local economy. When you buy from a local farmer, that money is reinvested into other businesses and services that help improve community life for everyone.
4. Support animal welfare. Local meats, cheeses, and eggs often come from family farms where the animals have been raised in favorable living conditions without hormones or antibiotics. You can feel good about what you’re eating.
Each farmer in the United States feeds 144 people, much more than ever. This National Ag Day, thank a farmer for all they do.
Agricultural giant John Deere heads into space
Close your eyes for a moment and think, “John Deere.” The odds are that the first things to come to mind are green tractors and rolling farmlands. Yet now, John Deere has its eyes set on a (literally) sky-high ambition: using satellites to revolutionize agriculture.
If the renowned farm equipment company has its way, farmers will soon use satellites to generate geospatial maps that allow them to monitor productivity and crop performance.
With this data in hand, farmers can put together appropriate and nuanced responses. For example, if one part of the field is underperforming, farmers can investigate and then react, perhaps increasing fertilizers to one area or deploying pesticides.
Farmers may not be limited to data from their fields or nearby fields. John Deere is working to increase connectivity worldwide. This way, farmers can monitor major events and trends from afar, which could help them organize a more effective response to changing environmental and operating conditions.
John Deere has been gathering data for some time. However, most current data collection relies on farmers using individual See & Spray devices. These devices can alert farmers to problems, such as growing weeds. Now, the company wants to up the ante by looping in low-earth satellites.
In recent months, John Deere has been in discussions with various satellite companies, looking for the perfect partner that will enable farmers to reap the full benefits of data. In the long run, farmers may enjoy greater yields and, thus, more substantial profits.
How to increase monarch butterfly populations on farms
For the past decade, environmental experts have touted the importance of safeguarding beneficial insects like honeybees. However, did you know that protecting monarch butterflies is equally important? Monarch migration across North America is essential to many ecosystems worldwide.
Farmers play a key role in growing monarch populations by protecting, restoring, and establishing native milkweed — wildflowers that monarch butterflies can’t live without — and other nectar plants. Here are a few ways farmers help bolster monarch populations:
• Refrain from spraying monarch habitats with herbicides and insecticides
• Manage ditches along fields to promote monarch habitats
• Leave grass uncut during periods when monarch eggs and caterpillars are present
• Implement grazing and burning practices that promote beneficial plants
If conservation experts and farmers continue to work together, they can create a more successful habitat for monarchs while minimizing the impact on crops and livestock production. Contact your local conservation authority to find out how you can help.
Understanding crop rotation
Crop rotation is the practice of planting different crops sequentially on the same plot of land from one year to the next. Though it requires careful planning, crop rotation is adaptable and can be modified according to the environment and other factors.
What are the benefits?
Crop rotation is a sustainable management practice that can increase biodiversity and improve crop performance. For example, it helps with weed control by preventing undesirable plants from adapting to the space and becoming a problem.
In addition, this practice can li¬mit heavy fertilizer and herbicide use. It also makes it possible to grow crops without the use of pesticides. Crop rotation improves soil structure, boosts soil fertility, prevents erosion, and increases harvest yields.
What types are there?
Farmers can execute many types of crop rotation, including simple, complex, and perennial variations. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Farmers can choose the method that best suits their operation by considering seeding time, crop competition, and fertilization needs.
Crop rotation makes sense for both farmers and the environment. Encourage the farms that use this method by opting for their products at farmers markets and grocery stores.
How to manage snowmelt on a farm
After a winter of heavy snow and ice, farmers must ensure snowmelt doesn’t flood buildings, damage feed, and destroy equipment on their homesteads. Here are a few ways farmers can mitigate the risk of water damage during a wet spring.
• Remove deep snow. Regularly plow or scrape snow to the side of large drives during the winter. Pile snow where the meltwater will drain away from buildings and exercise areas and feed lots rather than through them.
• Clear the eaves on buildings. Ensure the gutters and downspouts on barns and outbuildings are debris-free. It’s also important to point them away from the foundation. This ensures that snowmelt and rain runoff will be directed away from essential structures and their contents.
• Plant native greenery. Plants help reduce soil erosion, soak up moisture, and provide an obstacle to water. Look for native grasses and meadow plants or native trees and shrubs that have deep roots to mitigate the effects of spring melt.
• Improve grading. Pay attention to places around the property eroding during snowmelt and plan to improve them in the spring. Grading, for example, helps provide continuous drainage away from animals, feed storage, and high-traffic areas. A slope of four to six percent is recommended.
Finally, farmers should store harvest crops on high ground or wood or cement blocks to lift them off the ground to prevent them from being damaged by moisture.
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