> 1. What's the relationship between organic and sustainable
agri.? Are > they the same thing or something different?
No, organic and sustainable are not the same thing. Under most
circumstances, organic practices would be considered to be a subset
of sustainable practices, although I would have to qualify this with
my answer to your question #2 - how one "defines" sustainable
agriculture. Organic farming is often defined in terms of what it
does NOT do, namely, practicioners decline to use synthetic chemicals
in the form of fertilizer or biocides. The functions of these kinds
of products are replaced by other practices, such as integrating N-
fixing plowdown crops into the rotation or declining to grow crops
such as corn, which are particularly dependent upon biocides.
However, this kind of definition is superficial and really misses the
point. From my own observations, organic farming is first and
foremost a *holistic* philosophy that explicitly recognizes the
*interactions* among components of a farming system. Biocides are
avoided not simply to conform to some sort of purist dogma (although
this is true for some). Rather, they are avoided because the linear
thinking that underlies their use is known to be problematic.
Organic farmers know that weeds are a symptom of a larger problem (a
system which has opened up a niche for weeds to proliferate), not a
problem in themselves.
Conversely, weeds are the problem and herbicides are, increasingly,
the solution to a conventional agriculturalist (e.g. 90% of the
transgenic plant research in Canada is to introduce herbicide
resistance genes into crops). In conventional agriculture, inputs
such as an herbicide are expected to have one and only one effect -
to kill weeds. Other effects, such as
*wiping out a food source for a natural predator or pathogen of some
crop pest, thus aggravating the pest problem, or
*increasing susceptibility of the crop plant to stress or pest
*contaminating groundwater, or
*creating biocide resistant weeds that necessitate purchase of ever
newer and more expensive herbicides
are not factored into the decision to use the herbicide (with the
possible exception of groundwater contamination in recent years),
simply because the mentality underlying their use is linear in
nature. They do not see the whole, because they do not look for it.
Contrast this with the more holistic philosophy of an organic farmer
(and, it must be said, farsighted farmers of all stripes). Even if
all the links are not known, an organic farmer acknowledges that
unintended side effects are *likely* in response to any given
management intervention. So, although higher yields could be gotten
by growing corn instead of mixed grains (oats/barley), organic dairy
farmers (in Ontario) grow a variety of small grains (winter and
spring cereals) and seldom grow corn. The decision sacrifices yield
in order to gain
*greatly reduced weed populations (adaptation to colder soils, which
allows greater spring vigor, coupled with narrower rows comes to full
cover sooner and shortens the window of opportunity for weeds to grow)
*crop rotations which can routinely keep the soil covered for most of
the year, instead of the 2-3 months of full cover from corn, with
consequent advantages in weed control (red/far red ratio on canopy
transmission retards weed germination) and soil
*crop rotations which allow manure (compost) to be applied in
midseason instead of early spring or late fall, with consequent
effects on soil compaction and nutrient cycling
and so on. And, I might add, organic dairy operators make more money
(per cow, per person year, and per acre) than conventional dairy
operators, according to one recent study (Sholubi et al., submitted).
Organic farmers employ practices that are explicitly intended to have
more than one effect. In common language, they fully comprehend the
notion that the whole is more than the sum of the parts, and that it
is the *interactions* among the components - not the components
themselves - which hold the system together. To my eyes, at least,
most of what separates organic from conventional farmers is in the
explicit harnessing of these interactions to achieve human benefit.
This is also one of the key reasons why conventional agricultural
researchers tend to miss the point when they design studies looking
into organic farming - they focus on the components and practices,
not on the interactions.
The other key feature of organic farming is attention to maintenance
of the infrastructure or manufacturing plant from which yield is
derived. For example, they speak of "feeding the soil" rather than
"fertilizing the plant". This is one reason why it is difficult to
compare conventional and organic crop responses to management
interventions. Organic farmers "load" their land with regular
applications of livestock and/or green manure for years, knowing full
well that only a small fraction of the nutrients contained within a
given loading is going to contribute to yield in that same year.
Yield in any given year reflects the combined effects of
mineralization from loadings in all previous years. Those who
presume to analyze nutrient dynamics in organic systems in research
station studies often neglect this fundamental premise.
> 2. What's the definition of sustainable agri. ?
Does the definition > accept by most of academic people?
This note is getting overly long, so I will try to be brief. No -
there is no well accepted definition of sustainable agriculture. As
Chuck Francis has said, the term is just too attractive. People tend
to define it in ways that support their preconceptions, and not
incidentally, rationalize their own research for the preceeding
decades! Some include profitability and societal dimensions. In our
own work, we have emphasized fundamental, immutable ecological
principles and have argued that profitability is too fickle and
vulnerable to change in response to policy and other interventions to
be included in a definition of "sustainability".
> 3. What is the trend of organic agriculture development in
your country > ?
> and around the world?
It is growing rapidly, but still accounts for a very very small
fraction of the total. Growth is actively hindered by lack of
available information. Producers are obliged to learn largely from
each other, in a vacuum of plausible or relevant research from
established sources. Funding for research in organic farming is zero
in Ontario, although other provinces such as Quebec are more
generous. Some countries, such as Sweden and reportedly New Zealand
and Australia, are actively exploring the potential for expanding the
contribution of organic or sustainable approaches to agriculture.
> 4. Is demands for organic foods in US growing up or not?
Demand is increasing, unquestionably.
> engaging in organic food development in China. Because of some vague and
> confusion of conceptions,
Don't apologize. We are confused too! Good luck with year endeavors
in this new and exciting field. Ann
Dr. E. Ann Clark
University of Guelph
Guelph, ON N1G 2W1
Phone: 519-824-4120 Ext. 2508
FAX: 519 763-8933