Organic farming relies on methods that combine scientific knowledge of ecology and modern technology with traditional farming practices based on naturally occurring biological processes. It is a farming system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. The principal methods of organic farming include crop rotation, green manure and compost, mechanical cultivation, and biological pest control.
Farmers are faced with myriad production challenges where the most common problems are pests, which include insects, diseases, and weeds. They integrate cultural, biological, mechanical, physical, and chemical practices to manage pests.
Cultural pest control practices
Organic farmers rely on a strategy to make the crop or habitat unacceptable to pests by interfering with their breeding preferences and host plant discrimination. These can be achieved with practices such as crop isolation, mixed cropping, and crop rotation. The timing of sowing and planting can be used to allow young plants to establish a tolerant stage before an attack occurs and to reduce the susceptible period of attack. Management of trap and nursery crops and the surrounding environment is also included to divert insect attacks away from the crop.
Mechanical and physical control
Organic pest control techniques include tillage, mowing, cutting, mulching, and organic soil coverage and barriers. Tillage turns the soil between crops to incorporate crop residues and soil amendments. It also destroys weeds and disrupts the pest life cycle.
Biological pest control
Biological control in organic plant protection is a method of controlling insect pests and diseases using other organisms which rely on predation, parasitism, and herbivory, or some other natural mechanisms with active farmer’s management interaction. Natural enemies of insect pests, known as biological control agents, are predators, parasitoids, and pathogens. For weeds biological control, agents are seed predators, herbivores, and plant pathogens, while for plant diseases biological agents are antagonists. In organic farming, biological agents can be imported to locations where they don’t naturally occur, or farmers can make a supplemental release of natural enemies, boosting the naturally occurring population.
Chemical pest control
Organic standards are designed to allow the use of naturally occurring substances such as pyrethrin and rotenone. Farmers avoid the use of broad-spectrum synthetic pesticides, which severely disrupt natural control and promote the occurrence of secondary pests such as spider mites, brown planthoppers, and Rhizoctonia. There are also a few synthetic substances allowed in organic farming, such as fixed coppers (copper hydroxide, copper oxide, copper oxychloride, copper sulfate), hydrated lime, hydrogen peroxide, lime sulfur, and potassium bicarbonate.
A Final Note
To design and implement best practices of pest management in the production of organic vegetables, fruits, and other crops, it is necessary to have accurate knowledge of crop and pest biology, ecology, phenology, and pest-crop interactions, while following strictly regulated rules of organic farming. In the US and many countries around the world, this is regulated by an inspection, certification, and labeling scheme.