Health & Wellness

The Difference Between Organic and Conventional Farming

By Aimee McNew
Jordan Opel/Unsplash

People are concerned with labels on their foods: organic, non-GMO, and so on. But the meaning behind these labels is in the method that the products are farmed and grown. As a general society, we have lost contact with the process of cultivating our food, and as such, these terms have little meaning.

You’ll see, however, vast differences in the way that organic products are grown versus conventional products. Not only do organic farming practices provide an end product that is healthier, but it’s also good for the environment.

The Organic Farming Process vs. Conventional Farming

The United States Department of Agriculture has several key farming practices that are required to certify a farm as “organic.” These include elements like the way that pests and weeds are managed, crop rotation, soil fertility, organic seeds, and maintaining separation of organic crops from conventional crops.

While there are several differences between organic farming and conventional farming, the primary factors are that conventional farming utilizes chemical pesticide sprays, does not use organic seeds, and does not necessarily practice crop rotation or other methods of preserving the health of soil as a vital aspect of farming practice.

Organic farming practices also exclude synthetic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, irradiation to eliminate pests or disease, and genetic engineering (or GMOs). Instead, it utilizes natural elements to meet all agricultural needs, such as livestock manure or compost to boost soil quality, cover crops to improve soil quality, mulch for weed control, and predatory insects to control pests that disrupt crop growth.

Organic agriculture not only produces food crops that are free from pesticide use, but it is also good for the environment. Organic farmers use crop rotation not only to improve the nutrients in the soil, but to disrupt the types of insects and pests that live there, prevent soil-borne diseases, improve nitrogen, and protect against erosion.

Certain crops provide more benefits to the soil than others, which is why crop rotation becomes not only a vital practice for pesticide prevention, but also for ensuring increasingly successful crop yields.

Hemp as a Beneficial Organic Crop

Hemp, or cannabidiol, refers to a family of cannabis strains that has long been used for a variety of products, such as food, cosmetics, and even building materials. Hemp, unlike marijuana, doesn’t contain enough THC to produce psychoactive symptoms, but can still offer medicinal properties. CBD has surged in recent years as a wellness supplement to support health aspects ranging from inflammation to anxiety to pet health, and beyond.

Only 19 states currently grow hemp in one capacity or another. Some have thousands of acres devoted to it, like Colorado, Oregon, and New York, while others have a dozen or less acres, like Indiana, Hawaii, and Nebraska. Several states fall between these ranges, but hemp cultivation is expected to increase as 39 states have enacted laws regarding hemp in one form or another.

While hemp use itself has never been outlawed, it was illegal to grow it in the United States until recently, with a majority of hemp materials imported from Europe and Canada. Now that the U.S. is relaxing its stance on hemp farming, the organic agricultural industry stands to gain benefits that go well beyond producing a crop that is increasingly high demand.

Hemp is a sustainable crop that has more than 25,000 uses and has more environmental benefits than other vigorously growing crops, like corn and soy. Hemp requires less water and fertilizer and is naturally more resistant to pests.

Hemp also produces plenty of foliage, which can be used for livestock feed, and has potential to be used as biofuel, or alternative ways to produce gas and diesel. For industrial purposes, hemp can be used to create an alternative to concrete that creates less carbon emissions and actually pulls more carbon from the atmosphere.

Hemp is also used to make CBD oil, which contains no THC and is legal in all states for consumption.

Hemp is the perfect crop for organic farmers because it is in high demand and requires little assistance or hand cultivation, making it appealing even to small farms. It is a hearty crop that naturally resists pests and disease and even outgrows weeds and stifles them. It’s stronger than cotton, for example, but requires less water and space to grow.

Even the largest organic farms are small compared to the massive conventional farming operations that exist. Hemp as an organic crop not only offers numerous soil and environmental benefits, but since it is in high demand for health purposes like CBD oil, it also offers a chance to increase profits.

Beyond that, in an age where bee colony numbers are suffering, hemp is a crop that they love and which can help to proliferate their growth.

How to Know You’re Getting Organic Hemp

As with any other products, those that are grown organically and certified as such will have USDA labels on their final products, whether you’re buying hemp protein powder, hemp seeds, or cannabidiol products.

The USDA guidelines regarding organic labeling include:

  • 100 percent organic: This label is typically only found on foods that contain a single ingredient, such as fresh produce like fruits and vegetables, meat, eggs, and whole grains. It can also sometimes be found on product packaging that contains multiple ingredients if every item included is 100 percent organic. These often have a USDA organic seal featured prominently on the package.
  • Organic: Products with multiple ingredients that is labeled as organic means it has been made with at least 95 percent ingredients that are certified organic. This always excludes salt and water. Any items that are not organic, up to 5 percent, must be from a strictly maintained list of allowable ingredients according to the USDA. These products will also be labeled with a USDA organic seal.
  • Made with organic: Products that are labeled as made with organic ingredients have to be at least 70 percent certified organic, and will likely not carry a USDA organic seal. The ingredients list under the nutrition label of the product will identify which ingredients are organic and which are not.
  • Contains organic ingredients: If the final product contains less than 70 percent organic ingredients, an item cannot be labeled as organic and will not have a USDA organic seal. The ingredients label will specify which ingredients are organic.

When it comes to purchasing or using hemp products, ensuring that they have been grown organically not only provides a healthier product for the consumer, but for the environment as a whole.

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