“Going organic” is a phrase that’s tossed around a lot these days, but it’s not always clear what that means or why it’s a good thing – for the planet, for farmers or for pollinators. We sat down with Ruth Berlin and Cleo Braver from the Maryland Pesticide Education Network (MPEN) to learn more about the impacts of organic farming and reducing pesticide use.

Healthy Soils and Organic Farming Practices

“Given the recent historic and catastrophic hurricanes, floods and fires, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the impacts of climate change,” said Berlin. Fortunately, a growing body of research suggests that promoting healthy soils can sequester carbon and help combat climate change.

“A significant strategy for sequestering a good deal of carbon in our atmosphere to slow down (and maybe even eventually reverse) climate change is transitioning farms and people’s gardens and lawns to healthy soil for carbon sequestration,” said Berlin.

Healthy organic soil has a lot of potential to sequester carbon – so much that according to a 2014 white paper from the Rodale Institute, if farmers across the world adopted organic farming practices, we could reverse climate change.

Additionally, a study directed by The National Soil Project at Northeastern University in collaboration with the Organic Center showed that soil from organic farms had 26 percent more potential for carbon storage than conventional farm soil and provided 13 percent more soil organic matter. Organic matter is what helps keep soil healthy for crop production, and research shows that practices such as heavy tillage and pesticide use can degrade organic matter.

The Agricultural Impact of Losing Pollinators

Bees and other pollinators are crucial to maintaining the world’s food supply – and therefore farms as well. This past year, MPEN developed a survey, distributed to members of Maryland Organic Food and Farmers Association and MD Farmer’s Market Association, that asked farmers questions about pollinator numbers on their farms, reductions in quality and quantity of harvest.

“Over 70 percent of farmers surveyed reported reductions in quality and quantity of their harvests that they attributed to loss of pollinators,” said Berlin. “A farmer who raises tomatoes for example, has had to resort to manual pollination to maintain her tomato crop due to a serious decline in wild bees.”

“The bottom line is – no bees, no food,” added Braver.

How Farmers Can Protect Pollinators

Most farms in Maryland and across the country are not organic, but there are still commonsense steps that all farmers can undertake to better protect pollinators – starting by avoiding products that are known to harm them.

“First and foremost is to ensure farmers don’t purchase seeds, seedlings and plants that have been treated with pollinator-harming neonicotinoid pesticides,” said Braver. “Also, don’t use products that contain neonicotinoids or are labeled as toxic to bees.”

For more information, visit http://www.mdpestnet.org/