Over the years, it has become commonplace to understand and define organic agriculture as farming without synthetic pesticides and conventional fertilizers. This should not be considered a definition but a characteristic — only one characteristic of a socially and environmentally conscious approach to agriculture that is currently experiencing rapid growth in the U.S.(1)
A more suitable definition of organic agriculture is provided by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) — the federal advisory panel created to advise the USDA on developing organic legislation.
"an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony(2)."
The NOSB definition, not surprisingly, is similar to many definitions of "sustainable" agriculture. Research on organic farms, done over several decades, has revealed characteristics usually associated with sustainable farming, such as reduced soil erosion (3), lower fossil fuel consumption (3), less leaching of nitrate (4), greater carbon sequestration (4) and, of course, little to no pesticide use.
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