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Organic vs. Conventional: How Farming Practices Affect Wildlife and the Environment

Organic farming is not part of some fad diet. There’s much more to it. In fact, by eliminating pesticides and other chemicals, organic farming is immensely valuable to the environment because it reduces the risk to wildlife, soil, and waterways.

Conventional Farming: A Detriment to Wildlife

Conventional farming affects wildlife in the air. Honey bees and other pollinators are declining around the world, and CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) in the United States has increased significantly over the past decade. Pesticides and chemicals exacerbate this already significant problem, hampering efforts to combat it.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 million indigenous and migratory birds, including many protected species, are killed by pesticides in the United States each year. While laws against hunting have helped these birds maintain somewhat healthy populations, there is little that can be done to protect them from pesticide poisoning.

In addition to wildlife in the air, farming chemicals are also harmful to wildlife in the Earth’s waters. The algae that feed on chemical fertilizer runoff deprive other living marine life of oxygen, creating oceanic dead zones. Coral reefs, crustaceans, and local-dwelling fish species that can’t move out of the affected area die off.

Even the sea life that can escape these dead zones, such as most ocean-going fish species, can incur pesticide accumulation as they either pass through the area or eat affected sea life that has passed through the area. This accumulation can lead to premature death, sterilization, or food chain disruption.

Organic Farming: A Benefit to Wildlife

Organic farming doesn’t just reduce threats to the environment by eliminating pesticides. It actively benefits the environment by promoting natural, healthy ecosystems. So by converting from conventional farming to organic farming, you’re not only curtailing the decrease in wildlife, you’re contributing to its increase.

According to the UK’s, effective organic farming encourages biodiversity to abate the necessity of fertilizers and chemicals. So, most organic farming practices are wildlife friendly by nature, such as facilitating natural predator occupation as an anti-pest measure, and mixing crops to promote chemical-free soil fertility.

Characteristics of these healthier, organic-farm ecosystems (in comparison to conventionally-farmed fields) include:

  • deeper vegetation
  • more weed cover
  • more soil arthropods, microbes, and fungi
  • more pest-eating spiders and beetles

The effect this has on plant and wildlife populations is hard to ignore. Compared to conventionally farmed fields, organic fields have:

  • five times as many wild plants
  • 57% more species
  • 44% more birds
  • twice as many skylarks
  • twice as many butterflies

Image credit: Ed Yourdon

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