Organic agriculture is defined as a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects.1
At first glance, the mere mention of “chemicals” in the same sentence as organic farming seems incongruent when discussing weed and pest control. However, as the second half of this definition indicates, organic agriculture also combines tradition, innovation, and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.1
Innovative strides in the development of bio-based solutions designed for effective weed and pest control are making organic farming more accessible and more lucrative than ever before. To discover the truth about the science and successful use of the latest bio-based active ingredients in organic and natural farming, let’s first describe how bio-based chemicals are different from traditional chemicals. Traditional chemicals used in agriculture are typically synthesized in sometimes complex chemical reaction schemes and their starting raw materials are of synthetic origin, which is often petroleum-based.
Bio-based chemicals are usually derived from less complex reactions (such as extraction and hydrolysis) and their starting raw materials are natural-based, such as from animal fats or vegetable oils.
Organic Demand on the Rise, Domestic Supply Still Lags
Numerous associations agree that organic farming is not only here to stay but that it is also on the rise. According to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and its National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) as well as the Organic Trade Association (OTA), demand for organic and naturally farmed products is at an all-time high, with plenty of evidence to support its continued growth. Grocery chains are expanding square footage of organic and natural product lines at an ever-increasing rate to support consumer demand for organic, which has grown by double-digits nearly every year since the 1990s.2
Food services and farmer’s markets are on the upswing as well, catering to community interest in fresh, farm-to-table organic and natural products. These trends represent the reality that organic farming is here permanently. In fact, the most recent estimates from the OTA put organic agriculture at $43.3 billion in sales in 2015.2
According to the USDA, as of 2014, there were approximately 28,000 certified organic operations around the world3 and the numbers continue to increase. Since the count began in 2002, the number of domestic organic operations has increased by more than 250%.3
According to the latest available data from the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. producers dedicated approximately 3.6 million acres of cropland to organic production systems in 2014,4 with certified operations and cropland in every state. But, that’s not enough to satisfy the market.
Organic food sales currently make up nearly five percent of total food sales, while acreage devoted to organic agriculture is less than one percent of total U.S. cropland.2
As a result, imports of organic products significantly outpace exports, amounting to nearly $1.3 billion in 2014.5