Is Organics An Option
Going organic means different things to different people. A lot like the way only those in the industry refer to avocados as ‘fruit’, organics can mean anything from spray-free to certified biodynamics depending on whether you are a grower or a consumer.
Consumers often believe that the premium they pay for even slightly blemished produce means that what they are bringing home for their family is safer or less toxic. Many people who choose organics do so because they believe it’s better for their health and the environment.
Growers wanting to meet the demand for organics – and this might be particularly true overseas – often don’t address the health of the produce or environmental concerns at all, and simply use a substitution model. A conventional spray or fertiliser can be substituted for an organically labelled one, which does nothing to address environmental or toxicity concerns. A pattern of ongoing soil-degradation, and the war on pests continues, just with a product labelled ‘organic’.
"Going organic doesn’t necessarily need to be an either-or situation."
Some organic substitutions can be more acutely harmful to the applicator (such as industrial-strength vinegar or pine oil for weeds which requires full respirator PPE).
I know more than a few would-be organic growers who have been put off by the extra expense, lack of a premium return, and poorer production. When pests or diseases start to impact on your crop, it’s a big barrier to remaining organic when a chemical spray that would help is restricted.
But going organic doesn’t necessarily need to be an either-or situation. Growers can improve the health of their crops, reduce costs and cut back on the number of pesticides or herbicides used.
Going organic means different things to different people.
A more holistic approach is called Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and in this model the health of the whole system is looked at. Growers may not be registered organic, but their focus is on sustainability and crop health over the long term, so it is, for some, a more realistic model.
With IPM, conventional sprays can still be used, but only as a last resort, and we favour softer specific targeted applications rather than broad-spectrum kill-all insecticides. A good example of this is using BT for caterpillars rather than oil and pyrethrum. Both are considered organic, but the oil mixture can knock back good guys such as ladybirds and predator flies, whereas BT is a specific caterpillar killer only.
Changing over a growing practice from conventional to organic can take a long time.
The big goal is to encourage beneficial biology, whether that is getting a good balance in the soil of earthworms, mycorrhiza and bacteria or attracting good bugs to eat the bad bugs on the leaves and fruit. Orchards look more like meadows, with compost, mulch, wild-flowers, and mixed species of shelter to encourage birds.
Wilder looking spaces have habitat to attract and feed beneficials, whether these are bacteria or bees. More attention is paid to monitoring and improving plant health than spraying by the calendar.
Changing over a growing practice from conventional to organic can take a long time. Crops, especially trees, and the soil biology need to adjust. Some populations of beneficials may not be present in large enough numbers at first. Worms and ladybirds need to breed up to bigger populations.
IPM is a good intermediate step in that transition, and it can end up being the final destination as it allows for the best of both worlds. Moving towards IPM means more monitoring, of not just pest numbers but also beneficial insects and the soil biology. At first, growers will use the substitution model to replace inputs they are used to, but over time as support species establish – worms, flowers, bacteria, and ladybirds stick around, and plant health improves – a more organic system should see less need for inputs, with just the minimum, at the right time, for maintenance.