Published 03.03.2023

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Biodiversity and organic farming

Organic farming practices both benefit from and support biodiversity in the arable land while producing a stable yield of feed and food.

The aim of organic farming is to produce food products sustainably with minimal impact on the environment, climate, and nature. Agriculture cannot resolve the world's biodiversity crisis, but organic farming is of crucial importance for rebuilding biodiversity in agricultural land by creating a richer farmland nature.

Many species associated with the cultivated area are inĀ  decline and must be protected. At population level, the decline over recent decades is up to 80 percent, and it is necessary to restore sufficient resources, i.e. food and habitats for the populations to grow. Organic farming practices involve several advantages in this aspect as synthetic nitrogen, herbicides, and most fungicides and insecticides are not used.

Organic farming contributes food and habitats

According to the research institution FIBL, organic farms encompass between 46 and 72 percent more semi-natural areas than conventional farms. These areas include e.g. meadows and pastures which are not plowed and converted, but which are used to some extent for agricultural production, and which depend on this use to preserve their characteristic flora and fauna. Furthermore, Danish research shows that hedgerows on organic farms provide a better food source for flower-visiting insects than hedgerows within conventional areas, as they contain more flowering plants that develop a larger number of flowers which are there for a longer period. The network of dykes, field tracks, shrubs, hedgerows, and marl pits, so-called resource habitats, form the skeleton for life in the arable land and are necessary to maintain the food chains and for measures on the field surface to have a favorable effect.

Weeds are the engine of food chains

The food chains of the arable land are affected by management and cultivation. Because synthetic pesticides are not used on organic fields, a certain number of weeds may most likely be found. These weeds - so-called pioneer species - are the engine of the agricultural food chain, as they provide food for many of the farmland insects. Crop rotation, crop selection, crop diversity, field size, tillage, harvesting, and grazing methods are some of the elements that are important for biodiversity in the agricultural landscape.

Richer biodiversity benefits production

A rich farmland biodiversity supports many of the natural processes that drive food production. Natural control of pests and diseases as well as pollination are two important ecosystem services that increase crop yields. Worldwide, 75 percent of the most important crops wholly or partly depend on pollination by insects, and in Denmark, pollination by insects is estimated to have a value of DKK 421 to 690 million per year. It is also estimated that 30 - 40 percent of the world's crops are lost to pests.

A rich soil fauna is essential for the decomposition of manure, crop residues, and roots. These processes release nutrients to the crops and contribute to the soil's carrying capacity, water-holding capacity, and disease suppression. These ecosystem services represent a significant economic value and are crucial to ensure robust agricultural production. The organisms that contribute to the ecosystem services are called functional biodiversity.

Protected nature and organic farming

The most endangered and rare species need special protection. Existing natural areas must be preserved and protected, and larger areas must be conserved for nature. These measures are highly important to reverse the biodiversity crisis. Organic farming does not negatively affect these natural areas through the drift of pesticides and artificial fertilizers and can be a protection for them, just like organic animal husbandry can provide a central tool in nature management by letting animals graze valuable natural areas that require care. A large part of the loss of biodiversity in Danish nature relates to overgrowth. By grazing pastures, meadows, and heaths, cattle and other farm animals help secure and restore the natural content of valuable areas and can at the same time contribute to a sustainable production of meat and milk.

Definitions of biodiversity

  • Biodiversity: The diversity of all living organisms.
  • Agrobiodiversity: The diversity of living organisms in the agricultural system.
  • Functional biodiversity: The diversity of living organisms that benefit agricultural production.