When people visualize a farm, most come up with a similar image: sprawling tracts of land in an isolated, rural area. To be fair, for most of history, this has been a fairly accurate assumption. However, agriculture and agrochemical technologies are always changing. Thanks to new advancements in the science of growing food, it’s now possible to operate a legitimate farm in a major urban area.
This isn’t mere speculation. Startups like Edenworks have already demonstrated the concept’s viability.
Edenworks Farms in Brooklyn
Edenworks’ headquarters isn’t an expansive farm out in the middle of nowhere. It’s an 800-square-foot greenhouse adjacent to its office in Brooklyn, New York’s Bushwick neighborhood. The startup shares the building with a metalworking shop below.
Leafy greens thrive in the greenhouse, packed together and stacked vertically. Eventually, Edenworks will harvest these plants and sell them to a nearby Whole Foods grocery store. In the United States, the vast majority of leafy green produce comes from the deserts of California and Arizona. Though these two states have excellent climates for growing fruits and vegetables year-round, water is not abundant, and climate change will only increase water scarcity throughout the region.
In addition, because conventional produce must be shipped long distances, farmers must choose types of plants that have been bred to travel far without becoming damaged. This emphasis on durability means that there’s less focus on growing the varieties that taste the best. A head of lettuce from a traditional farm in California may be able to travel across the country tightly packed in a crate, but it might not be very flavorful.
Companies like Edenworks are striving to change this paradigm by using innovative agricultural techniques to convert large urban spaces, like factories and warehouses, into indoor farms in the middle of the city. Instead of trying to grow durable, travel-friendly produce, their goal is to grow high-quality, great-tasting, nutrient-dense produce for consumers in the area.
This approach doesn’t merely benefit city-dwellers. It’s good for the environment as a whole. The produce no longer needs to be shipped to the city from far-off farms, reducing the carbon footprint of the industry. In addition, Edenworks’ facility uses aquaponics—the plants are grown without soil, in a solution of water and nutrients. These nutrients are provided by waste from tilapia fish kept in tanks on-site. In this way, aquaponics leverages the natural relationship between aquatic animals and plants in the wild.
Aquaponic farming uses less water than traditional farms—in some cases, as much as 90% less. This is due to the fact that the plants are grown in a highly controlled, indoor environment in which evaporation is minimal. Produce grown using aquaponic methods also typically grows faster, allowing farmers to produce more food more quickly.
An Urban Agricultural Revolution
Although the new urban agricultural revolution is still in the early stages, it’s reasonable to assume that it will have a major impact on the agricultural and agrochemical industries on the future.
For example, if this movement gains traction, for essentially the first time in human history, people who live in cities will have easy access to farming jobs without needing to relocate. Because young college graduates often move to cities in the early stages of their careers, this may help to attract more talent to the field of agriculture.
Major universities based in these cities might also expand their agricultural programs.
Universities generally offer academic programs based on major industries in the surrounding areas—doing so ensures that students have opportunities for internships and relevant professional experience during their time in school. In cities, where farms are rarely accessible, universities are less likely to prioritize their agriculture departments. As urban farming becomes more common, their attitudes might shift.
Urban farming could also have a major impact on the agrochemical and precision agriculture markets. In order to more efficiently grow crops in urban environments, farmers must rely on greenhouses, aquaponics, and other methods that differ from those employed on conventional farms. If urban farms do become common, there will be greater demand for products and technologies tailored to their specific needs—such as agrochemicals specifically formulated for commercial greenhouses, or the pumps and tanks that are needed for aquaponic systems. Professionals in the agricultural industries would be smart to pay close attention to the development and growth of the urban agriculture movement. Those who monitor the trend closely will have a better opportunity to address the growing needs of urban farmers early, before the market gets crowded with competition.
As always, the agriculture industry is evolving. For people currently working in the field, it’s an exciting time. For those considering a career in agriculture, it’s perhaps even more exciting, with a whole new set of potential job opportunities waiting to be claimed.
Regardless of whether or not you think politicians have exerted too much influence over the food served to children at public schools, there’s no denying that young people need proper nutrition. Our bodies develop very rapidly during childhood. Getting the right nutrients is essential to our health, especially early in life.
As such, it’s important that public schools offer nutritious options for lunch, with plenty of fruits and vegetables on the menu. Districts that strive to provide students with locally-grown meals need to be sure they can rely on farms to supply them (or the companies they hire) with abundant, high-quality crops.
Farmers and those who work in the agrochemical industry should keep this mind when developing methods of boosting crop yields. After all, for a school lunch program to benefit students, farms need to meet the following criteria:
Farms Must Make Food Affordable
School districts frequently struggle to find room in their budgets for classroom materials and facilities, let alone healthy meal options. If they’re going to consistently serve fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious items, they’ll need to find a vendor that offers these foods at an affordable price.
Farmers can help by taking steps to boost efficiency. Recent tech innovations indicate that professionals in the agriculture industry are seeking ways to automate some of the more basic farming tasks. By using aerial drones and unmanned farm equipment in their processes, farmers can streamline their approach to growing crops, thereby reducing financial waste. This may lower prices.
If farmers are interested in supplying school districts with crops, they should constantly be looking for ways to save money and improve crop yields. As eager as they may be to help schools provide healthy meal options, they need to keep in mind that districts rarely have disposable funds. When securing a food vendor, schools must actively look for companies and farms that offer the lowest prices for quality food. Farmers who can’t offer low-cost options won’t be able to make inroads into this market.
Farms Must Ensure That Crops Are Reliably Available
Most public school lunch menus remain standard throughout the year. Quite simply, cafeteria staff may not have the time, knowledge, or resources necessary to craft a new menu for each week. Instead, they need easy-to-prepare meals that can be mastered in a short period of time, then served on a regular basis.
Schools looking to expand their selection of healthy options can’t effectively work with farms or companies that deliver an inconsistent supply of fruits and vegetables. This brings us to the next essential quality farmers must develop: the ability to grow abundant crops reliably.
Anyone who works in agriculture knows that there are a great many factors that a farmer can’t control. These factors may include, but are not limited to, weather patterns, climate, and wildlife behavior. All of these have an undeniable effect on the amount of food a given farmer can grow.
However, there are many steps farmers can take to achieve a greater degree of control over crop yield. Along with implementing new technologies, these steps include making sure that the necessary agrochemicals have been appropriately applied to all crops. While growers can’t decide whether or not a drought will occur, farmers can protect their crops from pests, disease, and competing plants. By taking a proactive approach to this aspect of farming, growers will be much more likely to produce a consistent amount of food.
A.G. Kawamura, California’s former secretary of agriculture, recently spoke about the importance of farming at the Nebraska Innovation Campus.
Many Americans have taken the agriculture industry for granted due to the general abundance of food available in the United States. As a result, Kawamura warned against falling prey to the idea that relying on conventional farming methods will always yield enough food for the population.
There have always been parts of the world where food is scarce. Rising populations, combined with the unpredictability of droughts and similar climate issues, could dramatically change the status quo without warning.
Agriculture’s Impact on Civilization
“Successful agriculture sustains civilization,” Kawamura said. “We don’t have to talk about what kind of agriculture it is, as long as it’s successful. That should be our focus right now.”
Kawamura makes an important point. Agriculture serves as the foundation upon which societies build and thrive. It’s impossible to pursue innovations in the arts, sciences, and any other field if your people aren’t fed. By addressing the basic needs of a society, farms allow civilization to flourish. If humankind is going to continue developing as a species, we’ll need to be certain that our methods of farming remain as effective as possible.
“Effective” is the key word in that statement. Kawamura would seem to agree. It’s no secret that there are many different approaches to farming. As technologies like aerial drones and unmanned equipment become more widely utilized, that will only be more evident. Nations should seek to identify and implement those methods that reliably yield the most amount of food for the greatest number of people.
Embracing New Agricultural Methods Is Crucial
That might mean adapting to new ways of thinking about agriculture. It could even mean preparing for another agricultural revolution. As Kawamura said, “It’s time for a global reset button,” adding, “We’re in a new age of agriculture. The pace of new knowledge and new thinking that is taking place is unbelievable.”
He’s right. Thanks to recent developments in areas like precision agriculture, farmers have recently discovered new ways to grow more crops. These methods could be regarded as vastly superior to those that came before.
Unfortunately, agriculture isn’t a topic that the average citizen thinks much about. As long as the existing farms continue to produce a dependable amount of food for their consumption, it’s easy for people to fail to consider where the food comes from. They may also forget that we still need to innovate in order to feed the world in the coming years.
For example, many of the techniques that fall under the heading of “precision agriculture” - essentially an approach to farming that involves very closely monitoring and addressing the individual needs of smaller groups of crops - require farmers to have access to special tools. In many (if not all) countries, the existing agricultural infrastructure doesn’t support the widespread implementation of these methods, despite their efficiency.
Government Contributions and Educational Outreach Will Be Crucial to Advancement
While some independent farmers may be able to afford the tools that they need to grow crops with greater precision, many others won’t. If citizens were informed of the benefits, they may see the value in governments contributing to the upgrade of existing infrastructure. Again, a new agricultural revolution could very well be starting. The countries that will benefit most will be those most prepared to embrace it.
With this in mind, Kawamura stressed the role of education in helping to spur innovation and public interest. Rather than urging listeners to rely on schools to make the needed curricular changes, Kawamura encouraged those working in the agriculture and agrochemical industries to work on cultivating this interest themselves.
“We need to produce excitement and enthusiasm globally about these goals to get everybody from around the world involved in this outcome we call the future.”
Although his statements may sound melodramatic to an outsider, to anyone who has worked in this industry, they sound entirely reasonable. Nations thrive based on how effective their agricultural methods are. Nations should not assume that the global, social landscape will remain static - it never does. Further, they should not assume that there are no farming methods more efficient than those that are already in use - nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead, it’s essential that world leaders focus on staying abreast of developments in the industry. Doing so could have genuine historical significance going forward, as the new agricultural revolution unfolds.
Agriculture—and, for that matter, agrochemicals—serve as the essential foundation upon which human civilization built itself. Prior to the rise of agrarian societies, most early human ancestors were hunter-gatherers, exhausting the resources in one area and moving on to the next. This nomadic lifestyle left little time for the development of science, art, or the numerous other fundamentals of culture that we so easily take for granted.
When tribes first discovered the principles of agriculture, they were finally able to settle in one location. This gave them the opportunity to focus more attention on other endeavors. Without farms, humans would have never built cities. We would have never established trade networks connecting our various societies and nations. And we certainly would have never developed the innovations necessary for space travel.
Permanent extraterrestrial colonies
Now, we find ourselves at yet another major turning point in the history of human civilization. NASA and other space agencies, including independent organizations such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, have announced plans to land a human on Mars within the coming decades. These initial missions would theoretically serve as the first of many, as humans begin to establish permanent extraterrestrial colonies.
While it may sound like science-fiction, it’s no longer reasonable to dismiss these claims. Humans are almost certainly going to visit Mars in the near future.
Of course, when they get there, they’ll need a reliable food source. That’s why this isn’t just a critical time for people involved in space exploration—it’s also a critical time for people involved in agriculture. In order to sustain a colony on another planet, the agencies organizing these missions will need help from the brightest thinkers in the industry. You can’t stay on Mars if you can’t grow food there.
Creating a ‘Mars Oasis’
Elon Musk’s plan for what he calls a “Mars Oasis” addresses this concern directly. Potential timelines for an eventual manned mission include an early mission that would involve transporting a small greenhouse to Mars, with nutrients and plants aboard. Engineers would devise a method to ensure that the plants do not begin growing until the greenhouse reaches the surface of Mars. Monitoring their growth cycle remotely from our planet, researchers would have the ability to gather information about the prospects and challenges of cultivating food in a Martian colony.
The researchers will need input from agricultural experts to come up with the most effective solutions to this problem. The essential challenge of the issue involves finding a way to alter a portion of the Martian soil so that it mimics the soil we have on Earth. Although films such as The Martian gloss over this barrier by depicting a few smart people arriving at basic solutions, experts agree that actually achieving this goal will be far from simple. However, they also agree that it can and will be done.
Accounting for gravity differences
Converting the barren Mars soil into nutrient, life-sustaining earth is just one part of the problem, though. Mars receives significantly less sunlight than we do. Colonists will either need to rely on plants that have been engineered to thrive with less exposure to the sun, or they’ll have to use artificial lighting sources to compensate for the difference. They might also need to account for gravity differences, which could theoretically keep plants from growing in the Martian atmosphere.
Then there’s the radiation problem.
Earth is protected from the sun’s radiation due to its remarkably thick atmosphere, a quality that’s not shared by any other planet in the solar system. Some experts believe that the atmosphere of Mars won’t be sufficient to protect crops. Any greenhouse that the first Martian colonists use for growing food will have to be strong enough to block the radiation that could otherwise decimate any plant life.
Creating the first farm on Mars
In other words, starting the first farm on Mars is going to be very difficult. However, people who work in the agriculture and agrochemical industries are used to tackling extremely difficult projects. Throughout nearly all of human history, farmers have encountered these types of problems in one form or another. While no one has ever tried to grow food on another planet before, they have had to grow food in an inhospitable climate, in regions where pests or diseases have threatened crops, and in areas where the soil was barely fertile enough to support even meager plant life.
Yet, they’ve always managed to overcome these obstacles. As visionaries continue to strive towards the eventual goal of establishing a permanent human colony on Mars, agriculture experts have an opportunity to make a major contribution to the history of the human species.
It’s a very exciting time to be a farmer.
Agriculture and agrochemicals often get overlooked when people discuss the industries and fields that contribute the most to society. This is understandable. Farms have been around for literally thousands of years. As a result, it’s become easy to take them for granted. Doing so involves ignoring one key fact, though: agriculture may very well be the “backbone” of all civilization.
True, this might sound like an audacious statement to make, but upon closer inspection, it holds up.
Pre-agricultural nomadic tribes
Experts agree that, prior to the development of agriculture, humans were generally hunter-gatherers. They lived in tribes, moving from one area to another to find and consume food. This type of living left little room for art, science, medicine, or any of the countless advances and innovations that are necessary for the growth and success of a society.
It wasn’t that those pursuits served no practical purpose for pre-agricultural tribes—it was simply that the people living in those tribes didn’t have any opportunities to focus on them. It’s widely accepted that the primary reason humans formed communities to begin with was to provide for their own survival. They found that it was easier to survive if they cooperated with others who could support them. In turn, they would offer their own skills and resources to the tribe.
Everyone had a role to play, essentially. Unfortunately, in hunter-gatherer societies, those roles were limited—everyone focused on procuring food and shelter. The demand for self-preservation drove the tribe from one location to another, following the seasons. After they had exhausted the immediately available resources, they moved on. They could not put down roots, and so they could not invest any attention toward endeavors that did not support the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
Agriculture changes everything
When humans learned that, instead of pursuing food, they could cultivate it, they had found a completely new way of life that allowed them to abandon the hunter-gatherer approach and adopt one that allowed them to remain in one place.
Although early farming was most likely not easy, it was almost certainly not as physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing as hunter-gatherer living. In addition, agriculture had another benefit: it enabled the human population to grow faster than ever before.
Farmers were able to coax more food out of the land than a hunter-gatherer could ever collect, and they could ensure a more consistent, year-round supply that wasn’t so totally dependent on the whims of nature. Agriculture also allowed for surpluses of food—and because people were sedentary, they could store their surpluses and access them during lean times, as protection against starvation. All these developments made possible a larger, healthier population.
What’s more, in an early agricultural civilization, there was now room (and more people available) to devote energy toward other pursuits, instead of simply those that allowed a tribe to most effectively travel, hunt, and forage. Those who identified the healing properties of certain foods and herbs, for example, could communicate their findings to the rest of the community, allowing them to treat others who were sick or injured; this served as the foundation for the development of medicine.
To make the most of a farm, it was important to have a strong understanding of the role the seasons played in food production, and the best conditions for plants to grow. This resulted in humans acquiring an understanding of subjects like astronomy and botany. With more free time available, members of these early societies began to look for ways in which they could keep themselves occupied. Because of this, we now have sports, theatre, literature, and all the other arts and fields that enrich our lives. While hunter-gatherer living was focused mainly on keeping people alive, agriculture was the first major development in human history that made it possible for the full scope of human activity to flourish.
It also allowed for greater cooperation among different communities. In the past, groups were competing for the few resources available in a particular area. By learning that they could grow their own food, instead of hunting it, there may have been less need to compete with others. They could instead form alliances. Over the centuries, these alliances grew into the geopolitical entities—such as cities and nations—that are familiar today.
Later on, beginning with the Industrial Revolution, agrochemicals played a major role, of course. They greatly increased the amount and quality of food a farm could produce. The advances mentioned above benefited greatly from the use of chemicals that could protect crops from disease, pests, and competing plants.
That’s why it is by no means an exaggeration to claim that agriculture and agrochemicals serve as the backbone of human civilization. Had they never been developed, humans would still be hunting for food, gathering as much of it as they could, and abandoning a region when it no longer served useful to their needs. By giving tribes the ability to grow their food instead of seeking it out, agriculture gave them the chance to truly build their societies.
Mobile technology has had a tremendous (and positive) impact on the lives of people all over the world. These devices allow users to connect with friends, navigate roads, and research any topic with the click of a button.
Consumers aren’t the only ones who have improved their lives through the use of smartphones and tablets, however. Business owners have also found that “smart” devices and products that are part of the Internet of Things allow them to boost productivity, more efficiently manage tasks, and address problems quickly.
Farmers, too, can benefit from these innovations. While some may still see the agriculture and agrochemical industries as “old-fashioned” arenas that rarely employ new technology, this is a misperception.
Agriculture - A High-Tech Industry
As the rise of precision agriculture indicates, farmers are constantly implementing the latest tools to increase their crop yields and supply more high-quality food to people around the world. Whether they are using aerial drones to monitor their crops or relying on unmanned vehicles to perform daily tasks, agricultural professionals are often on the forefront of emerging technologies.
That’s why farmers should pay attention to the kinds of benefits they can enjoy if they make use of mobile devices and IoT applications. Developers tend to respond to market demand.
There are many applications for this type of technology in the work of farming. However, if the people who create the technology aren’t motivated to by consumer demand, they’ll be much slower in tailoring their products to the agricultural industries. It’s up to farmers, agrochemical suppliers, and other professionals to make it clear how these products can and ought to be used on a farm.
Monitoring Crops with Technology
For example, farmers looking to get the most out of their crops know that it’s important to monitor them. Monitoring helps identify instances in which a particular set of crops may need additional nutrients, herbicides, pesticides, or other treatment.
In the past, this typically required sending out actual workers to visually inspect crops on a regular basis. This is an inefficient way of performing this task, but until recently, there was not any other option.
Technology has changed that. Farmers can, theoretically, install monitoring stations throughout their land. These stations will remotely supply them with data about the health of the crops in that particular area. By simply checking their mobile devices, farmers will see whether or not a crop needs any additional work or attention in order to properly thrive.
Managing Resources with Technology
Technology won’t merely allow farmers to boost crop yield (although this is an important benefit, as it results in more food for people to consume). It will also give agricultural professionals the opportunity to make more efficient use of their resources.
For example, this means that workers who would have previously been sent into the field to assess the state of a crop can instead focus on other necessary tasks. Rather than applying agrochemicals randomly, farmers will know precisely which crops need additional pesticides and which don’t, making it easier to conserve their supply.
Instead of converting nearby areas to farmland, the increase in crop yield means farmers will be able to rely on their current land, preserving natural habitats as a result.
This is merely one application for mobile technology in the agricultural industries. The unmanned vehicles mentioned earlier can also be equipped with devices that provide information on their condition, so farmers can make any necessary repairs before the machinery breaks down entirely.
The potential uses for IoT devices are seemingly limitless. Additionally, if history is any indication, innovative thinkers will certainly introduce new ideas - and in the near future.
Challenges with the Implementation of Agricultural Technology
Of course, there are roadblocks standing in the way of these developments. Many farms are still located in rural areas with low population density. As such, the infrastructure necessary to support this type of intense mobile tech use may not be in place.
That’s another reason professionals in the agricultural industries should clearly express their interest in such innovations. By making it clear to tech developers that there is a demand for these products, they’ll be developed and made available more quickly. Additionally, wireless companies will also recognize the demand and respond accordingly, building the cell towers required to support these applications.
Anyone familiar with the nuances of agriculture knows that increasing efficiency and productivity is a key goal of all farmers. Throughout human history, farmers have identified useful processes and technologies, incorporating them into their work to achieve these goals. As mobile tech becomes more and more ubiquitous, it’s important that farmers continue this trend, embracing the potential uses for these products.
No matter what time period or topic you focus on, when you’re a student in a history class, the goal isn't simply be to memorize important names and dates. The study of history is the study of how different cultures, nations, technologies, and people influenced one another and changed the course of human development.
For example, children in the United States often learn about the Industrial Revolution and how it shaped the world in which they live today. If they can come to appreciate the effects that major technological developments of the past have had on their present-day lives, they can perhaps see how current events will influence the future.
That’s why it seems that the history of agriculture ought to be a subject students learn more about in their early schooling.
How Agriculture Is Currently Taught
True, many children across the world are taught how the first human civilizations made the shift from a hunter-gather style society to a more farming-centric, agrarian one. There is definitely some degree of attention paid to agriculture’s role in history.
The problem is that school curricula tend to depict agriculture’s role in human society as one that was far more significant in the distant past. As a result, children may think of agricultural innovators as consisting exclusively of ancestors who lived a very, very long time ago, and who have no direct impact on their lives today.
Of course, it’s entirely valid to approach this subject from the perspective of modern humans looking back at how societies developed from hunter-gatherers to the agrarian societies most people live in today. However, agriculture didn’t merely provide food for humans to consume. Yes, that may have been - and may always be - its primary function, but focusing exclusively on this element of its effect on society means ignoring the bigger picture.
Additional Impacts of Agriculture on Society
Agriculture did keep humans well-fed. However, agriculture also made it possible for ancient tribes to settle down permanently in one geographic area. This allowed people to differentiate their roles within a culture.
The stability afforded to societies by farming expanded opportunities for people to develop their artistic talents. It also led to the establishment and enforcement of laws, as well as the development of cohesive religious and philosophical beliefs. So many elements of human society that we may take for granted, from literature to spirituality, would never have existed in their current forms without the development of farming.
So, yes, it is fair for schools to discuss agriculture in terms of its impact on society’s historical development. However, educators shouldn’t limit the discussion to these terms. If the educational emphasis is on the development of agriculture as a major turning point in the history of humankind, that’s all children well ever think of it as: history.
Agriculture’s Impact on Contemporary Society
The reality, though, is that agriculture continues to be a major force in all of human society. It still provides the vast majority of the food that people eat. It also has a tremendous impact on the economic health of a given nation.
Additionally, farming has led to the development and adoption of many new technologies, from unmanned drones to driverless tractors to the development and use of agrochemicals, all of which boost the industry’s overall efficiency with the result that more people are fed. Not only that, but major cultural shifts are still occurring as countries and peoples respond to the need for more food, for more of what agriculture provides.
Changing How the History of Agriculture Is Taught
In the agrochemical industry, as in so many other fields, leaders are always looking for bright young people to seek employment and contribute their talent and insights. Unfortunately, if students are taught to think of agriculture in limited terms - the transition to agrarian societies as ancient history, farming as technologically stagnant, agrochemical companies as the domain of business school graduates - then those who might otherwise find a reason to enter the field might not do so. Then they would lose out on the opportunity to not only make the world a better place, but also play a fundamental role in the shaping of history.
Because of the need for fresh talent and constant innovation within the industry, it is important that schools across the world reassess how they approach this topic. Agriculture must be taught in such a way that students better understand how this vital industry directly affects them right here and right now.
When this shift happens, students with a deep curiosity and a well-cultivated social conscience may realize that agriculture is the industry that will offer them the opportunity to do their most important work.
These days, many people are interested in organic food. In fact, a Gallup poll in 2014 indicated that 45% of Americans actively seek out organic food. The reasons that people offer to explain this preference are many and varied, but a common one is the belief that organic food is somehow better for you than conventionally grown food. But is this really true? It’s important to look at the facts behind this and other common beliefs about organic food, and decide for yourself.
Myth: Organic food is healthier.
It’s not unusual to hear people claim that organic fruits and vegetables are healthier than those that have been grown with the aid of agrochemicals. However, this is simply not backed up by the current science.
According to research by a team from Stanford University (just one of many institutions that has supported research on this issue), there is no significant nutritional difference between organic food and other options. Looking at more than 230 studies comparing organic and conventional food, the Stanford team could not find convincing evidence that organic foods were more nutritious or conveyed fewer health risks than conventional foods. This research was published in 2012 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Why do many people assume organic food is healthier, then? The reason may have to do with the higher price these foods command. When people spend more money on a product that appears to be virtually identical to a similar product, they may try to come up with a justification for it. Assuming that it is better for them on a nutritional level makes this much easier, even if there is little evidence to support this assumption.
This is especially the case when dealing with junk food, sweets, and other foods that may be unhealthy when consumed in excess. Some people feel more comfortable drinking a can of soda if they are told that it’s organic. In reality, of course, it’s no better or worse than a regular can of soda. A label on the bottle doesn’t change that.
Myth: Organic food is always better for the environment.
Aside from the presumed health benefits, some people assume that buying organic is always better for the environment. Again, though, this is not a conclusion for which there is much evidence.
First of all, you have to consider how much food the typical organic farm actually generates. While farms that use agrochemicals are able to protect their crops from pests and invasive plant species, organic farms don’t have as many resources for this. As a result, they produce a smaller yield per acre—meaning that an organic farm must use more land to produce the same amount of food as a conventional farm. This is problematic because converting land to farms can destroy natural habitats for wildlife.
On the other hand, researchers at the Center for Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute estimate that modern farming practices have saved 15 million square miles of wildlife habitat. The same researchers also calculated that 10 million square of miles of forest would have to be cut down if the world solely relied on organic farms for food.
Myth: Organic food is grown without pesticides.
In addition, some people think that organic food is grown without the use of any pesticides or agrochemicals—that an organic strawberry, for example, has been exposed to no more than soil, sunlight, and water.
This simply is not the case, however. There are more than 20 agrochemicals approved by the US National Organic Standards Board for use in growing and processing organic crops. These pesticides differ from those commonly used in conventional farming, because they are derived from natural sources rather than synthetic ones. But it is still incorrect to assume that organic food is produced without any help from agrochemicals. The fact of the matter is that any large-scale farm, whether organic or conventional, will likely need pesticides, herbicides, and other tools to protect crops and improve yields.
Myth: Organic food tastes better
There are still some who claim that organic food does at least taste better. Again, though, this claim doesn’t seem to stand up to greater scrutiny. There have been multiple studies conducted on this subject, and the results are inconclusive at best. Some have shown that people can taste the difference, while others have demonstrated that they cannot. There simply isn’t enough evidence to claim that organic food tastes better, or that pesticides and herbicides rob fruits and vegetables of their flavor.
But what does matter, if you want your produce to taste its best, is when you buy it and how you store it. Buying produce in season and eating it at the peak of its ripeness will typically ensure that you get the best-tasting product.
There are many myths surrounding both agrochemicals and organic food, and it’s important to know the facts so you can decide for yourself. However, many of the common beliefs about organic food don’t stand up to further scrutiny. It may be that organic seems special for a simple reason—there’s a lot less of it. But exclusivity doesn’t necessarily translate to other benefits.
Humankind has been managing food production for centuries. Since the earliest civilizations, gardeners have worked to safeguard crops and provide their people with food. Though farming methods have changed, the need for nutritious foods that meet the demands of the world's population continues, with each generation facing growing challenges.
Today's farmers are trying to balance social, economic, and environmental concerns, often pitting the use of agrochemicals against organic methods. In the quest for more nutritious, safer foods, which is really better? To find out, it helps to explore commonly held ideas regarding the growing methods for organic food.
Myth: Organic farmers don't use pesticides.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for organic farming is that no pesticides are used. Shockingly to most, however, is the truth: certified organic farms can use pesticides, and they often use them in greater quantity than their non-organic counterparts. The reason behind this, in part, is that organic pesticides are generally not as strong as synthetic pesticides, requiring more frequent applications. To further complicate the issue, most organic pesticides are designed for broad applications. Pesticides are sprayed liberally and can therefore have an adverse effect on the soil, wildlife, and other plants.
What about organic pesticides? When asked, the majority of consumers affirm that they purchase organic produce to avoid pesticide residue on their foods. Many proponents of organic farming claim that pesticides produced organically are safer and more effective than synthetic pesticides. Few are aware that the pesticides produced from natural sources, with little to no processing, can be just as toxic as synthetics. In addition, farms that use organic pesticides, or who use no pesticides at all, are often plagued with bacterial outbreaks and other microbial infestations due to a lack of efficient pest removal.
Myth: Organic foods are healthier
Another argument used in the case for organic foods is its supposed higher nutritional value. This makes sense, after all; if one has a choice between food with extra vitamins and minerals and food with diminished nutritional value, the choice is clear. Studies over the last 50 years, however, reveal that there is minimal difference in the nutritional value of organic and non-organic foods. In comparison studies, the presence of 15 major elements were analyzed and found to be virtually equal among foods. Ironically, in some cases, organic food contained higher quantities of certain unhealthy substances, such as trans fats, making them less nutritious than non-organic food.
In conjunction with being healthier, organic foods are said to taste better. Research dispels this idea as well. In a blind taste test, nearly 80 percent of participants failed to identify the organic foods correctly.
Myth: Organic methods are more environmentally friendly.
Concerns over the long-term effects of pesticides and other agrochemicals on the environment give many organic-food proponents additional motivation, and most would agree that mitigating our damage to the earth and environment is a worthy undertaking. Logically, then, one would assume that implementing the least invasive and most natural farming methods is the better choice.
Organic methods, as previously mentioned, use their own set of pesticides, which can be harmful to the environment. In addition, organic farmers often refuse to adopt new methodologies and practices that could benefit the crop. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for example, are almost universally vilified and shunned by the organic community, even when there is clear evidence supporting their use. This lack of adoption of new strains of food organisms can be harmful to the environment as well. As a result of refusing to use GMOs, farmers end up spraying, a practice that could be eliminated if the proper seeds were used.
Further bolstering the evidence that organic farms are not more environmentally friendly is the substantial difference in the amount of food produced. Organic farms are not able to produce crops in the same quantity as other farms, necessitating the development of additional farmland. This reduction in forest areas leads to further environmental concerns, making the organic farm more harmful to the environment overall.
Perhaps most perplexing in the debate over organic and non-organic farming methods is the idea that consumers and growers must either wholly support one or the other. It seems that advocates for organic farming can see no benefit in applying alternative methods, while those who support agrochemicals see little use in organic processes. Rather than adhering to an “all or nothing” mentality, farmers and consumers would benefit from an adaptive approach that makes the most of each method. As agrochemical companies work to improve their product capabilities, organic farmers can adopt new technologies to improve their farming and food for all.