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Special Issue "Organic Farming and a Systems Approach to Sustainable Agroecosystems"

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A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 January 2014)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Dr. Jennifer Reeve (Website)

College of Agriculture, Utah State University, 4820 Old Main Hill, Logan, UT 84322-4820, USA
Interests: sustainable farming systems; organic agriculture; nutrient cycling and organic matter; soil health

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Organic farming systems utilize organic amendments, diverse crop rotations and cover crops to promote soil fertility and enhance soil, plant and animal health. These practices increase biologically active soil organic matter which promotes microbial activity, maintains nutrient cycling, and aids in suppression of soil borne disease. Organic amendments increase soil cation exchange capacity and act as slow release nutrient sources, reducing risks of excess nutrient loss to the environment. Soil organic matter also improves water infiltration, increases water holding capacity, mitigates compaction and prevents erosion. These benefits are well established, however, the realities facing farmers are often complex. Harsh economic and environmental conditions and or scarce organic amendments can limit the practical options available. Likewise, organic farms that focus on input substitution to maximize yields may risk environmental benefits associated with organic farming practices. Consumers of organic produce are particularly interested in the potential health benefits of organic food. However, establishing such a connection remains a challenging ongoing area of research. To overcome these problems, a systems approach to research is needed to determine locally adapted and economically viable management practices that conserve resources and are associated with environmental, social, plant and animal health.

Dr. Jennifer Reeve
Guest Editor

Submission

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Keywords

  • organic farming
  • soil health
  • environmental quality
  • social responsibility
  • economic viability
  • food quality
  • systems approach
  • sustainability

Published Papers (12 papers)

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Research

Jump to: Review

Open AccessArticle Perspective on Dietary Risk Assessment of Pesticide Residues in Organic Food
Sustainability 2014, 6(6), 3552-3570; doi:10.3390/su6063552
Received: 11 January 2014 / Revised: 19 March 2014 / Accepted: 22 May 2014 / Published: 30 May 2014
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (835 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Previous studies have shown that organically produced food has lower risks of pesticide contamination than food that is not organically produced. However, organically produced food is not entirely free of pesticide residues. A large, high-quality U.S. Department of Agriculture database reports pesticide [...] Read more.
Previous studies have shown that organically produced food has lower risks of pesticide contamination than food that is not organically produced. However, organically produced food is not entirely free of pesticide residues. A large, high-quality U.S. Department of Agriculture database reports pesticide residues in several dozen organic and conventionally grown foods on an annual basis, and supports detailed analyses of the frequency of residues in conventional and organic food, the number of residues found in an average sample of food, residue levels, and potential dietary risk. These data are used to estimate pesticide dietary exposures and relative risk levels, and to assess the impacts of the current pesticide-related provisions of the National Organic Program (NOP) rule. Fraud appears to be rare based on the available data. Most prohibited residues found in organic produce are detected at levels far below the residues typically found in food grown with pesticides. Relatively high-risk residues are more common in imported foods—both organic and conventional—compared to domestically grown food. The authors conclude that incorporating relative dietary risk into the organic standard would be a more precautionary, risk-based approach than targeting enforcement to organic foods found to contain 5% or more of the applicable Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tolerance. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Organic Farming and a Systems Approach to Sustainable Agroecosystems)
Open AccessArticle Evaluating the Sustainability of a Small-Scale Low-Input Organic Vegetable Supply System in the United Kingdom
Sustainability 2014, 6(4), 1913-1945; doi:10.3390/su6041913
Received: 29 December 2013 / Revised: 3 March 2014 / Accepted: 26 March 2014 / Published: 9 April 2014
Cited by 6 | PDF Full-text (1864 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Supplementary Files
Abstract
Resource use and environmental impacts of a small-scale low-input organic vegetable supply system in the United Kingdom were assessed by emergy accounting and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The system consisted of a farm with high crop diversity and a related box-scheme distribution [...] Read more.
Resource use and environmental impacts of a small-scale low-input organic vegetable supply system in the United Kingdom were assessed by emergy accounting and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The system consisted of a farm with high crop diversity and a related box-scheme distribution system. We compared empirical data from this case system with two modeled organic food supply systems representing high- and low-yielding practices for organic vegetable production. Further, these systems were embedded in a supermarket distribution system and they provided the same amount of comparable vegetables at the consumers’ door as the case system. The on-farm resource use measured in solar equivalent Joules (seJ) was similar for the case system and the high-yielding model system and higher for the low-yielding model system. The distribution phase of the case system was at least three times as resource efficient as the models and had substantially less environmental impacts when assessed using LCA. The three systems ranked differently for emissions with the high-yielding model system being the worst for terrestrial ecotoxicity and the case system the worst for global warming potential. As a consequence of being embedded in an industrial economy, about 90% of resources (seJ) were used for supporting labor and service. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Organic Farming and a Systems Approach to Sustainable Agroecosystems)
Open AccessArticle Agronomic Management under Organic Farming May Affect the Bioactive Compounds of Lentil (Lens culinaris L.) and Grass Pea (Lathyrus communis L.)?
Sustainability 2014, 6(2), 1059-1075; doi:10.3390/su6021059
Received: 6 December 2013 / Revised: 13 February 2014 / Accepted: 19 February 2014 / Published: 21 February 2014
PDF Full-text (739 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
A two year field experiment was carried out to evaluate the effects of three row and eight row seeding on the total phenolic compound (TPC), total flavonoid content (TFC), hydrolyzed (HTC) and condensed tannin (CTC), antioxidant activity (ABTS assay), protein content and [...] Read more.
A two year field experiment was carried out to evaluate the effects of three row and eight row seeding on the total phenolic compound (TPC), total flavonoid content (TFC), hydrolyzed (HTC) and condensed tannin (CTC), antioxidant activity (ABTS assay), protein content and soluble dietary fiber (SDF) and insoluble dietary fiber (IDF) in the extracts of lentil (Lens culinaris L.) and grass pea (Lathyrus communis L.) cultivated under organic farming. The aim of this study was to determine whether row spacing used for seeding in organic farming systems for lentil and grass pea is a suitable method to increase the accumulation of antioxidant compounds in these crops. Grass pea showed the highest mean SDF and protein while lentil varieties showed the greatest and significant content of all of the antioxidant compounds. In lentil, there were increases in TPC (52%), HTC (73%), TFC (85%) and CTC (41%), passing from three rows to eight rows, while in grass pea, the increases were lower, and only significant for TFC and CTC (37%, 13% respectively). In both lentils and grass pea, the highest correlation coefficient was between TPC and HTC, which indicates that the HTC includes the predominant phenolic compounds in lentil as well as in grass pea (r = 0.98, 0.71 p < 0.001, respectively). Regardless of legume species, TPC, HTC, TFC and CTC showed significant (p < 0.001) and linear correlations with the ABTS assay. These data confirm the key role of row spacing for the improvement of the antioxidant properties of lentil in organic farming; moreover, they hint at the major responsiveness and adaptation of lentil to environmental stimulus with respect to grass pea. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Organic Farming and a Systems Approach to Sustainable Agroecosystems)
Open AccessArticle ‘Milk is Milk’: Organic Dairy Adoption Decisions and Bounded Rationality
Sustainability 2013, 5(12), 5416-5441; doi:10.3390/su5125416
Received: 30 September 2013 / Revised: 4 November 2013 / Accepted: 14 November 2013 / Published: 13 December 2013
PDF Full-text (660 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Bounded rationality is an especially appropriate framework for organic dairy adoption decisions as it recognizes internal and external constraints which are critical in understanding complex farm decision making. Farmers use of, and access to, information is examined using interview data gathered from [...] Read more.
Bounded rationality is an especially appropriate framework for organic dairy adoption decisions as it recognizes internal and external constraints which are critical in understanding complex farm decision making. Farmers use of, and access to, information is examined using interview data gathered from organic, conventional, managed graziers, and Amish dairy farmers in Southwestern Wisconsin at a time when organic milk prices offered a 50% premium over conventional prices. Focusing on certain aspects and impressions of organic dairy, such as the sentiment that “milk is milk”, may lead to information satisficing where farmers do not take full advantage of the information available to them. Organic farmer interviews reveal the challenges they faced with bounded rationality constraints and how they countered these challenges with the help of social networks, as well as how situational factors such as economic and health crises may have motivated them to adopt organic dairy. The interview data from organic and conventional farmers alike also reveals how many conventional dairy farmers utilized information strategies which did not fully consider the pros and cons of the organic system. A bounded rationality framework could enlighten policy makers and educators as they tailor sustainable agricultural policy design and information dissemination strategies to serve the diversity of farmers on the landscape. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Organic Farming and a Systems Approach to Sustainable Agroecosystems)
Open AccessArticle Rethinking Study and Management of Agricultural Systems for Policy Design
Sustainability 2013, 5(9), 3858-3875; doi:10.3390/su5093858
Received: 15 June 2013 / Revised: 14 August 2013 / Accepted: 30 August 2013 / Published: 12 September 2013
Cited by 6 | PDF Full-text (603 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
There is a concern that agriculture will no longer be able to meet, on a global scale, the growing demand for food. Facing such a challenge requires new patterns of thinking in the context of complexity and sustainability sciences. This paper, focused [...] Read more.
There is a concern that agriculture will no longer be able to meet, on a global scale, the growing demand for food. Facing such a challenge requires new patterns of thinking in the context of complexity and sustainability sciences. This paper, focused on the social dimension of the study and management of agricultural systems, suggests that rethinking the study of agricultural systems entails analyzing them as complex socio-ecological systems, as well as considering the differing thinking patterns of diverse stakeholders. The intersubjective nature of knowledge, as studied by different philosophical schools, needs to be better integrated into the study and management of agricultural systems than it is done so far, forcing us to accept that there are no simplistic solutions, and to seek a better understanding of the social dimension of agriculture. Different agriculture related problems require different policy and institutional approaches. Finally, the intersubjective nature of knowledge asks for the visualization of different framings and the power relations taking place in the decision-making process. Rethinking management of agricultural systems implies that policy making should be shaped by different principles: learning, flexibility, adaptation, scale-matching, participation, diversity enhancement and precaution hold the promise to significantly improve current standard management procedures. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Organic Farming and a Systems Approach to Sustainable Agroecosystems)
Open AccessArticle Effects of Reduced Tillage on Crop Yield, Plant Available Nutrients and Soil Organic Matter in a 12-Year Long-Term Trial under Organic Management
Sustainability 2013, 5(9), 3876-3894; doi:10.3390/su5093876
Received: 14 June 2013 / Revised: 4 September 2013 / Accepted: 6 September 2013 / Published: 12 September 2013
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (827 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
A field experiment was performed in Southwest Germany to examine the effects of long-term reduced tillage (2000–2012). Tillage treatments were deep moldboard plow: DP, 25 cm; double-layer plow; DLP, 15 + 10 cm, shallow moldboard plow: SP, 15 cm and chisel plow: [...] Read more.
A field experiment was performed in Southwest Germany to examine the effects of long-term reduced tillage (2000–2012). Tillage treatments were deep moldboard plow: DP, 25 cm; double-layer plow; DLP, 15 + 10 cm, shallow moldboard plow: SP, 15 cm and chisel plow: CP, 15 cm, each of them with or without preceding stubble tillage. The mean yields of a typical eight-year crop rotation were 22% lower with CP compared to DP, and 3% lower with SP and DLP. Stubble tillage increased yields by 11% across all treatments. Soil nutrients were high with all tillage strategies and amounted for 34–57 mg kg−1 P and 48–113 mg kg−1 K (0–60 cm soil depth). Humus budgets showed a high carbon input via crops but this was not reflected in the actual Corg content of the soil. Corg decreased as soil depth increased from 13.7 g kg−1 (0–20 cm) to 4.3 g kg−1 (40–60 cm) across all treatments. After 12 years of experiment, SP and CP resulted in significantly higher Corg content in 0–20 cm soil depth, compared to DP and DLP. Stubble tillage had no significant effect on Corg. Stubble tillage combined with reduced primary tillage can sustain yield levels without compromising beneficial effects from reduced tillage on Corg and available nutrient content. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Organic Farming and a Systems Approach to Sustainable Agroecosystems)
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Open AccessArticle The Influence of Different Cover Types on American Robin Nest Success in Organic Agroecosystems
Sustainability 2013, 5(8), 3502-3512; doi:10.3390/su5083502
Received: 3 June 2013 / Revised: 23 July 2013 / Accepted: 5 August 2013 / Published: 13 August 2013
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (668 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
There are many opportunities for biodiversity conservation in organic farm systems. Successful and sustainable conservation efforts in organic systems, however, need to measure appropriate outcomes. In particular, data are needed on the breeding success of associated wildlife species. We measured nesting success [...] Read more.
There are many opportunities for biodiversity conservation in organic farm systems. Successful and sustainable conservation efforts in organic systems, however, need to measure appropriate outcomes. In particular, data are needed on the breeding success of associated wildlife species. We measured nesting success of the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) in woodlands embedded within eight organic farms in eastern Nebraska. We modeled daily nest survival rate to identify land use and land cover patterns that optimize conservation of birds in organic farm systems. The percentage of a crop in the fields adjacent to linear woodlands best predicted daily survival rate. Daily survival rate was lower in fields adjacent to wheat and greater in woodlands adjacent to soybean fields, though the latter may be a weak effect. There was no evidence that reducing the area allocated to organic crop production would improve daily survival rate but rather an evidence of a patch-matrix interaction. These results suggest that, if suitable nesting sites exist, organic farmers can complement local conservation efforts without losing working farmland. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Organic Farming and a Systems Approach to Sustainable Agroecosystems)
Open AccessCommunication A New Generation of Plant Breeders Discovers Fertile Ground in Organic Agriculture
Sustainability 2013, 5(6), 2722-2726; doi:10.3390/su5062722
Received: 17 May 2013 / Revised: 5 June 2013 / Accepted: 13 June 2013 / Published: 19 June 2013
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (423 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Plant breeding for organic systems is a growing field that is attracting a new cohort of graduate students in land-grant plant breeding programs. In 2012, the first Student Organic Seed Symposium (SOSS) was organized by and for graduate students and held in [...] Read more.
Plant breeding for organic systems is a growing field that is attracting a new cohort of graduate students in land-grant plant breeding programs. In 2012, the first Student Organic Seed Symposium (SOSS) was organized by and for graduate students and held in Greensboro, VT. This three-day symposium brought together graduate students and plant breeding professionals in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Organic plant breeding offers an exciting new niche for public breeding programs, with the potential to develop unique opportunities and partnerships. Participation in the symposium demonstrated that graduate students are enthusiastic about engaging in organic plant breeding and building a community of support for their work. This new cadre of researchers represents one opportunity to collectively move towards a more sustainable agricultural future, and underscores the necessity of building and maintaining strong public plant breeding programs that can facilitate this work. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Organic Farming and a Systems Approach to Sustainable Agroecosystems)

Review

Jump to: Research

Open AccessReview Impacts of Organic Zero Tillage Systems on Crops, Weeds, and Soil Quality
Sustainability 2013, 5(7), 3172-3201; doi:10.3390/su5073172
Received: 24 May 2013 / Revised: 5 July 2013 / Accepted: 15 July 2013 / Published: 22 July 2013
Cited by 13 | PDF Full-text (714 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Organic farming has been identified as promoting soil quality even though tillage is used for weed suppression. Adopting zero tillage and other conservation tillage practices can enhance soil quality in cropping systems where synthetic agri-chemicals are relied on for crop nutrition and [...] Read more.
Organic farming has been identified as promoting soil quality even though tillage is used for weed suppression. Adopting zero tillage and other conservation tillage practices can enhance soil quality in cropping systems where synthetic agri-chemicals are relied on for crop nutrition and weed control. Attempts have been made to eliminate tillage completely when growing several field crops organically. Vegetative mulch produced by killed cover crops in organic zero tillage systems can suppress annual weeds, but large amounts are needed for adequate early season weed control. Established perennial weeds are not controlled by cover crop mulch. Integrated weed management strategies that include other cultural as well as biological and mechanical controls have potential and need to be incorporated into organic zero tillage research efforts. Market crop performance in organic zero tillage systems has been mixed because of weed, nutrient cycling, and other problems that still must be solved. Soil quality benefits have been demonstrated in comparisons between organic conservation tillage and inversion tillage systems, but studies that include zero tillage treatments are lacking. Research is needed which identifies agronomic strategies for optimum market crop performance, acceptable levels of weed suppression, and soil quality benefits following adoption of organic zero tillage. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Organic Farming and a Systems Approach to Sustainable Agroecosystems)
Open AccessReview Critical Overview on Organic Legislation for Animal Production: Towards Conventionalization of the System?
Sustainability 2013, 5(7), 3077-3094; doi:10.3390/su5073077
Received: 28 May 2013 / Revised: 25 June 2013 / Accepted: 11 July 2013 / Published: 17 July 2013
PDF Full-text (529 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Adoption of organic animal production legislation, particularly at the Community level, is done with a spirit of compromise and an attempt to reach consensus. In this sense, legal tools are used to solve technical problems so that an appreciable number of derogations [...] Read more.
Adoption of organic animal production legislation, particularly at the Community level, is done with a spirit of compromise and an attempt to reach consensus. In this sense, legal tools are used to solve technical problems so that an appreciable number of derogations (exceptions) are introduced. These may allow the use of certain feed additives, tethered animals or even application of castration. However, derogations should be avoided in legislation where harmonization is pursued, since they bring about distortion in the marketing of organic products. The validity of these derogations has expiry dates. However, at least the EU was hesitant to proceed with the necessary amendments to lift these derogations so that eliminate ambiguities and block loopholes. In turn, mention is made to geographical issues raised from the exceptions question posed again with the new EU Regulations. Furthermore some thoughts are expressed concerning the relationship between setting standards and the crucial role of values in agriculture, organic in particular, social aspects and pursued policy. Finally, the essential feature of this work is that derogations in legislation inevitably lead to conventionalization of organic animal production, which necessitates the clear definition of “organic”. To substantiate this, relevant arguments are put forward. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Organic Farming and a Systems Approach to Sustainable Agroecosystems)
Open AccessReview Sustainability of US Organic Beef and Dairy Production Systems: Soil, Plant and Cattle Interactions
Sustainability 2013, 5(7), 3009-3034; doi:10.3390/su5073009
Received: 3 June 2013 / Revised: 28 June 2013 / Accepted: 4 July 2013 / Published: 11 July 2013
Cited by 8 | PDF Full-text (668 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In 2010, the National Organic Program implemented a rule for the US stating that pasture must be a significant source of feed in organic ruminant systems. This article will focus on how the pasture rule has impacted the management, economics and nutritional [...] Read more.
In 2010, the National Organic Program implemented a rule for the US stating that pasture must be a significant source of feed in organic ruminant systems. This article will focus on how the pasture rule has impacted the management, economics and nutritional value of products derived from organic ruminant systems and the interactions of grazing cattle with pasture forages and soils. The use of synthetic fertilizers is prohibited in organic systems; therefore, producers must rely on animal manures, compost and cover crops to increase and maintain soil nitrogen content. Rotational and strip grazing are two of the most common grazing management practices utilized in grazing ruminant production systems; however, these practices are not exclusive to organic livestock producers. For dairy cattle, grazing reduces foot and leg problems common in confinement systems, but lowers milk production and exposes cows to parasites that can be difficult to treat without pharmaceuticals. Organic beef cattle may still be finished in feedlots for no more than 120 days in the US, but without growth hormones and antibiotics, gains may be reduced and illnesses increased. Grazing reduces the use of environmentally and economically costly concentrate feeds and recycles nutrients back to the soil efficiently, but lowers the rate of beef liveweight gain. Increased use of pasture can be economically, environmentally and socially sustainable if forage use efficiency is high and US consumers continue to pay a premium for organic beef and dairy products. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Organic Farming and a Systems Approach to Sustainable Agroecosystems)
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Open AccessReview Soil Fertility Management a Century Ago in Farmers of Forty Centuries
Sustainability 2013, 5(6), 2796-2801; doi:10.3390/su5062796
Received: 18 April 2013 / Revised: 18 May 2013 / Accepted: 13 June 2013 / Published: 20 June 2013
PDF Full-text (396 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Published just over a century ago, Farmers of Forty Centuries or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan, served to document the viability and productivity of traditional agricultural systems that relied on composting, and complete recycling of all types of natural [...] Read more.
Published just over a century ago, Farmers of Forty Centuries or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan, served to document the viability and productivity of traditional agricultural systems that relied on composting, and complete recycling of all types of natural waste materials, as a means of sustaining soil fertility. This cardinal rule of waste management and organic soil husbandry became known as “the law of return” to organic farming. With regards to nutrient management, organic farming methods uses restorative cultural practices that include the law of return principle which encourages the closure of nutrient cycles. In these respects, organic farming methods are arguably more firmly grounded in ecology and sustainability than the promotions of the chemical fertilizer industry which has largely displaced traditional soil fertility practices. Farmers of Forty Centuries is a classic with valuable lessons and experience to offer towards teaching modern concepts in sustainable agriculture. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Organic Farming and a Systems Approach to Sustainable Agroecosystems)

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