It is generally accepted that Organic agriculture or farming has traditionally been considered the oldest
production system [Lampkin, 1992]. What is more contentious is the modern interpretation of what Organic agriculture is.
There are currently a multiplicity of terms that have been employed in literature to describe Organic agriculture
and which may present initial confusion. Lampkin  has established sixteen different names used throughout
the world. They include for instance:
It is apparent from the works of Reeve  that although the terms 'organic' and 'biological' are synonymous,
the European mainland favours the term biological [Lampkin, 1992], yet most English speaking countries favour the
term Organic agriculture [Reeve, 1990]. In Australia the term "sustainable" has been associated with this production
system. through the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia [N.A.S.A.A.] which has closely aligned
itself with Organic agriculture and has become synonymous with chemical free agriculture. Thus the profusion of
terminology has given a false and misleading impression of confusion in the essential meaning.
- Low-input farming [Haines, 1982],
- Biological agriculture [Reeve, 1990],
- Agriculture biologiuue the French equivalent [Kiley-Worthington, 1993] and
- 'Howard-Balfour' agriculture [Boeringa, 1980].
The modern organic philosophy and it's associated management practices are still evolving out of a rich heritage,
which include the written contributions of Rodale, Newman Turner, Skyes, Walters and many others. If the commonly
excepted conception is true that Sir Albert Howard is the "Father of Organic Agriculture" [Agricultural Testament,
1947] as we understand it today. Then the "Grandfather" was Robert Elliot [Agricultural Changes, 1898], who could
also be described as the 'forgotten author'.
Elliots  notes four simple principles:
He also highlights the need for self-sufficiency, biodiversity and how plants feed from humus.
Artificial fertilisers were used to build humus in the soil and not just to add nutrients. Elliot notes
that "the principles of my system being as old as
agriculture, though the method of carrying them out may be
new, and, so far as I know, is new" [Elliot, 1904].
In Stapleton's foreword to Elliot retitled book The Clifton
Park System of Farming  he notes that Elliot's work has largely been over looked [and still is], due to the
limited volume of books printed and the distraction of two world wars.
- The success of our agriculture depends on the cheapening of production.
- The cheapest food for stock is grass.
- The cheapest manure for the soil is turf composed largely of deep-rooting plants.
- The cheapest, deepest, and best tillers, drainers and warmers of the soil are roots.
Lady Eve Balfour also made major contribution and not only emphasises a ecological concept, but that the life cycle
should be studied as a whole, i.e. "the nutrition cycle is not merely a transfer of nutrient material from one form
of life to another, but also a circuit of energy" (Balfour, 1975, p.1). The role of soil humus and the need to
develop adequate organic matter levels was a central theme to the production of healthy food and out of this
understanding the movement has become associated with composting and green manuring. However, the manner of
producing plant/root matter appears to be the dividing lines between the so called "chemical" and "organic"
movements with some organic farmers refusing to use them.
The emergence of Organic farming to its present day resurgence, has partly come about through changing social
attitudes as well as environmental considerations. In 1965 the South Australian "Group" of the British "Soil
Association" was formed. In 1975 it separated from its English counterparts and became a member of the International
Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM). In May of 1973 the Organic Growers Association of N.S.W. was
formed. It was labeled as part of the "alternative society" movement and the only interest that orthodox farmers
took in the Association was to ridicule Organic farmers [Australian Country, 1974].
A study by the USDA has identified that modern organic systems does have a number of basic 'organic' ethics for example:
In addition, IFORM has identified the following principles:
- Nature is capital;
Energy intensive modes of conventional agriculture place man on a collision course with nature.
Present trends and practices signal difficult times ahead. More concern over finite nutrient resources
is needed. Organic farming focuses on recycling nutrients.
- Soil is the source of life;
Soil quality and balance [that is, soil with proper levels of organic matter, bacterial and
biological activity, trace elements and other nutrients] are essential to the long-term future of
agriculture. Human and animal health are directly related to the health of the soil.
- Feed the soil, not the plant.;
Healthy plants, animals and humans result from balanced, biologically active soil.
- Diversify production systems;
Over specialisation [monoculture] is biologically and environmental unstable.
Organic farming contributes to personal and community independence by reducing dependence on energy-intensive
agricultural production and distribution systems.
Finite resources and Nature's limitations must be recognised.
Hence, organic farmers seek to establish ecologically harmonious, resource efficient and nutritionally sound
agricultural methods [Reeve, 1990]. Having considered some of the traditional philosophies, ethics and goals
of Organic agriculture it is this author's opinion that over the last few decades the philosophy of the organic
movement has become more rationalist as it moves to the implementation of Quality Assurance Programs and marketing
As different emphasis are occurring it should be noted that two significant changes have been adopted from that of
traditional 'Howard-Balfour' [Boeringa, 1980], Organic agriculture.
- Production of food of high nutrient quality.
- To give livestock living conditions which allow them to perform all the basic aspects of their innate behaviour.
- To allow agricultural producers to obtain an adequate return to supply their basic needs and to get
satisfaction from their work.
- To consider the wider social and ecological impacts of the farming system.
[Bock, 1995, p.2]
Two specific areas relate to:
The use and potential reliance on mineral fertilisers was not one of the foundations on which the organic
movement was founded. There would appear to have been a move away from maintaining a 'closed' system and
the acceptance of commercially prepared 'mineral' fertilisers to artificially support the agroecosystem.
In affect there is an excepted practice of product substitution whereby superphosphate is not allowed to be
used but Rock Phosphate can. This situation is very complex and can be divisive.
- The association of 'organic' with being "chemical free" as its main feature and not the original emphasis
on healthy soil - healthy food - healthy people.
- The widely accepted and authorised use of [mineral] fertilisers.
Some farmers have also taken an extreme stance and not applied any "chemicals", which in one respect may be
ethically correct, however if the nutrition and health of food is adversely affected [i.e. nutrient deficiencies,
which weaken plants and increase the susceptibility to pest and disease attack] is the food still healthy?.
If poor quality products are produced with no "chemicals" usage this could be associated with "farming by neglect",
which weakens the developed credibility of established organic farmers. Both these factors have been a move away from
the traditional core issue of producing healthy soil/plants/animals/humans through the use [organic matter] humus
and the regeneration of the soil.
These and other factors have broadened its definition and allowed the term to be used more widely,
which has on one hand led to Organic agriculture having a greater acceptance with farmers now considering
it as a viable production system [Lampkin, 1992]. On the other hand the term organic can be seen as "grey"
and confusing due to the general use of the word in our every day language. There is still confusion as to
what the term "organic" really means.
Specific management practices
To give a pragmatic view showing the practical application of Organic agricultural methods a
number of unique management characteristics have been identified. In the following list are some
examples of specific management practices.
In summary Organic agriculture has moved from having a image of 'muck and magic' [Kiley-Worthington, 1993]
to researching and integrating new technologies for the future. It is evolving and heralding a change in
agriculture across the world [Lampkin, 1992]. Roberts  goes as far as to suggest that in Australia
"sustainable" agriculture is likely to draw on the principles of Organic farming in its less extreme form,
however Beus et al.  adds a note of caution and infers that traditional 'organic' research programs will
simply be relabelled sustainable agriculture.
- Mineral fertilisers
- Green manure crops
- Companion planting
- Multi-tine subsoiling
- Limited chemical usage
The information contained in this publication has been formulated in good faith, the contents do
not take into account all the factors which need to be considered before putting that information
into practice. Accordingly, no person should rely on anything contained herein as a substitute for
specific professional advice.
S.O.S. Rev 9.2 All rights reserved.
Contact: www.healthyag.com © Gwyn Jones 2001
Back to Alternative Agriculture Menu
Copyright Healthyag.com © 2001