In celebration of Canada’s Agriculture Day 2023, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize all of the dedicated, passionate, and hard-working individuals in our industry devoted to providing Canadians with healthy organic foods. The industry is built on regulated standards based on shared values centred around protecting people and the planet. This dedication goes beyond the final product; when you support organic, you are also supporting farming practices with reduced environmental impacts/ a healthier environment.
Despite being ahead of the curve, the organic industry must continue to challenge itself and find new ways to become more sustainable. This is done through farmers, researchers, and other industry stakeholders/professionals working together to develop and implement innovative new practices that support farmers livelihoods while producing healthy and safe food and reducing ecological impacts.
How is organic agriculture innovative? Organic farmers have to be innovative and work differently because they rely on ecological processes like nutrient cycling rather than the synthetic inputs that conventional farmers use. Often, when we think of innovation, we think of technology, and it is certainly important. New technologies have been developed that specifically support organic farmers, for example, new tools for mechanical weed control, greenhouse systems, and IPM. New crop varieties are also being bred for organic farmers under organic growing conditions.
Much of the innovation in the organic sector, however, can be described as ecological innovation. Organic farming requires a systems approach based on understanding the agroecosystem and enhancing ecological services. Farmers are key innovators. Organic farmers often know their land better than anyone and are constantly trying out new techniques and ideas on farm. Organic researchers work in collaboration with farmers to further investigate and improve on-farm practices. Key areas of research explore topics such as, crop rotations, soil management, biodiversity, etc. The knowledge gained through research is very important, and when adopted by farmers can help enhance their operations. For example, designing strong crop rotations, may help prevent certain issues from arising. Other ecological innovations on farm include green manures, organic amendments to build soil fertility, biocontrol, crops adapted to conditions with less inputs, and plants that are more resistant to disease and pests. The decisions made on an organic farm can impact long-term productivity, therefore it is crucial that we properly manage our agroecosystems to support ecological functions and minimize environmental harm.
Remember, innovation is not limited to production, it is happening throughout the whole supply chain as well. Consumer and environmental needs are ever-evolving, and as a result we find new ways to process, preserve, and package organic foods, in addition to addressing other issues such as food security, food availability, etc.
Photo: Andrew Hammermeister
Although this only scratches the surface and provides a small amount of insight to some of the ways in which the organic industry is innovative, hopefully it provokes thought as to what innovation can really embody. Although from the outside organic practices may seem like an “old school” way of farming, in reality they are constantly evolving to address new challenges and reduce environmental impacts.
About the Author
This Buzz Builder is written by Macy Penney Cameron. She is the Communications Officer at the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC). Macy is passionate about the organic industry, and through her work helps deliver useful resources and information coming out of the Organic Science Cluster programs to producers and industry. The Organic Science Cluster is led jointly by the Organic Federation of Canada in collaboration with the OACC at Dalhousie University. The OACC aims to serve Canada’s organic sector through education and science.