The Definition of Organic Farming

Getting Agricultural Goods Certified Organic

Farmers hands bundling bunch of dandelion greens
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How is organic farming defined?

There is no universally accepted definition of organic farming, but most consider it to be a specific production system which aims to avoid the use of synthetic and harmful pesticides, fertilizers, growth regulators, and livestock feed additives.

USDA guidelines state that farmers use agricultural methods that preserve the environment and avoid synthetic farming and agricultural materials.

Almost all organic farming systems rely on what some call alternative farming methods, such as crop rotation, mechanical cultivation, animal manures, green manure, and integrated pest management to maintain healthy soil, grow healthy plants, and control pests and weeds. Oddly enough, these alternative farming methods are older, from a historical perspective, than newer farming methods that include using pesticides and other synthetic farming applications.


The National Organic Program (NOP), part of the USDA, develops standards for organic farming, but these standards don't cover the maximum in sustainable farming practices. There is no consensus on whether or not sustainable practices are a necessary component of organic farming, contributing to the lack of a universal definition.

Numerous U.S. states, regions, and local farmers have additional organic farming standards in place that exceed basic NOP standards.

Additionally, other countries have established organic farming standards that differ from U.S. standards.

Becoming Certified Organic

Farmers can have their agricultural goods certified organic through the USDA. This involves submitting an application and required fees to a certifying agent accredited by the USDA.

Land used to grow these goods cannot have been farmed with any prohibitive substances for at least three years, according to the USDA site.