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Organic Farming History and Certification. C. Francis and J. Van Wart University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Abstract. J. Van Wart and C. Francis , University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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organic farming history and certification

Organic Farming History and Certification

C. Francis and J. Van Wart

University of Nebraska, Lincoln


J. Van Wart and C. Francis , University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Abstract: The roots of modern organic farming emerge from the parent material of agricultural history, as indigenous systems were de facto organic for millennia. In the middle of the 20th Century the term “organic” began to be used to designate production systems that depended on biodiversity and internal system structuring to manage fertility and pests, in contrast to systems dependent on imported fertilizers and chemical pesticides derived from fossil fuels and other outside inputs. Many organic practices were designed and tested by farmers, while a few noted academics such as Rudolph Steiner in Germany, William Albrecht in Missouri, Albert Howard in India, and Evelyn Balfour in U.K. began to apply science to understand system mechanisms. Today organic farming systems are a hot topic for research in a number of landgrant universities and private research centers, in response in part to sustained annual growth rates of 20% per year in organic acres farmed in the U.S. over the past two decades. Standardization in official certification began with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) in 1982, and there are currently a number of national, state, non-profit, and private certification agencies and systems. This includes the U.S. National Organic Program that was officially introduced in October 2002. These programs assure a relatively uniform set of requirements for certification that provide accountability in the production and processing of organic foods and assurance for the consumer. One of the greatest concerns today is the growth of industrial organic production and marketing, known as “Big O”, that reduces production costs but moves away from the traditional organic family farm and a social system that is concerned about distribution of benefits from this sector of the food system. Organic farming and food systems are projected to continue to grow as more is discovered about efficient design of farming practices and systems.


Science Base, Literature and Research



1942: Rodale Magazine Organic Farming and Gardening first published, Albert Howard named first editor


Brief History of Organic Farming


1962:Silent Spring Published- explains dangers of chemical inputs like DDT; initiates the environmental movement and formation of the EPA

1967: U.C. Santa Cruz organic program started by Alan Chadwick-eventually leading to a 25-acre research farm hosting over 1000 interns in its history

We describe how organic farming has stimulated an ecologically-based research agenda, a far reaching change that is now permeating our national agricultural research agenda. It is difficult to quantify the impacts that organic farmers and organic farming research have made on mainstream agriculture. We are becoming more aware of the unintended consequences of many of our current fertilizer and pesticide practices, as farmers struggle to meet EPA requirements for water quality and as farm program compliance for federal payments continues to put pressure on mainstream agriculture. These emergent properties of high-tech agriculture help us to realize the importance of a systems perspective to research, one that takes into account production and economics but also the environmental and social impacts of alternative agricultural strategies. All of these factors lead us toward research that takes into account the ecological processes on which agriculture depends, and compels us to use an improved understanding of ecosystem dynamics in planning future, sustainable production and food systems.

These people provided much of the scientific foundation for what we today call organic farming


1972:IFOAMinitiated, soon begins providing certification guidelines, standards and direction.

Albert Howard studied native systems in the West Indies and India, and developed his theories about organic production from this experience and published An Agricultural Testament. His work was publicized by the Soil Association of the U.K.

1980: USDA reports on organic farming as way to eliminate chemicals because of concerns of environmental and food quality degradation. Farmers feel unsupported by government and research community

Evelyn Balfour reported on long-term rotations at the Houghley experiments in Suffolk in her book The Living Soil.


Rudolph Steiner’s famous eight lectures to farmers and scientists form the basis of the biodynamic farming movement, one that has rules more strict than certified organic farming.

1984: Michael Fields biodynamic farm started in WI to promote sustainable agriculture through hands-on training and political activism; first ASA book on organic farming

William Albrecht at University of Missouri pursued organic methods of maintaining soil fertility through crop rotations and manure/compost applications, and his work has been summarized in three volumes from ACRES International.

Late 1980’s: Fraudulent organic labels and food scares prompt interest in regulation of organic labeling

1990: Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990 Initiated calling for regulation of the “organic” label



1989/1990’s: University of Maine adds B.S. program, initiates a student-run CSA and is recognized as adding important new information to the industry

1990’s: Nebraska statewide organic research program begins



2002: (OFPA) National Organic Program takes effect certifying “organic” production

2003:State of the States, 2nd Edition: Organic Systems Research at Land Grant Universities, 2001-2003 published. State by state analysis of research activity-much has changed since 1980

2009: ASA publishes

Organic Farming:

the Ecological Systems