What does Certified Organic mean in Australia?
Organic produce comes from farmers who are committed to creating a holistic system of growing food for you, the consumer. But what does that really mean?
The fruits and vegetables are the results of an effort which combines taking care of the soil, plants, animals, people, and environment. The goal is to avoid synthetic chemicals, fertilisers, and GMO’ s and works towards innovating farming and production methods to create healthy and environmentally friendly produce. To guarantee this is what you are getting, Organic Products in Australia will have the Australian Certified Organic label on them. In today's blog, we are going to look at the Australian Certification Requirements for organic produce, so you know what you are paying for and how organic differs from conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.
What are the Australian Certification Requirements?
The Australian Certified Organic BUD logo is a stamp of integrity for you to be able to quickly recognise that the produce which has met the Australian Certified Organic Standard and went through rigorous checks. Farmers are required to stick to a strict code of rules which touch upon everything from soil fertility, wastewater management, pest mitigation, and resource use.
Soil Fertility and Health Management
Potentially the most important part of the farming process is the beginning, which is the earth where products are growing. This is why there are extensive Organic Certification Requirements dedicated to the proper management of the soil, so it retains its minerals, nutrients, and is able to produce high-quality products year after year. Improper soil management can result in heavy topsoil loss and mineral depletion.
The Australian Organic Certification Requirements include the following guidelines and methods include:
1. Conservation and recycling of nutrients to allow for regeneration and retainment nutrients in the humus content. The humus is the organic component of the soil created by the decomposition of leaves by microorganisms which live in the soil.
2. Majority of the nutrients taken by the plants should come from the humus in the soil rather than water-soluble salts. Referring to natural methodologies as opposed to synthetic fertilisers.
3. The fertility, biological activity and organic matter in the soil must be maintained or increased through methods including
a. Cultivation of legumes. Which improve the nitrogen content in the soil.
b. Sheet composting and animal manure
c. Fully composted organic matter to provide vital microorganisms and nutrients back into the soil.
d. Use of Biodynamic Methods
e. Well timed and minimal tillage, to minimise nutrient and topsoil loss.
f. Management of livestock
g. Balancing of soil nutrients through the production of humus
4. If plant rotation is not possible, such as in the case of perennial crops, a diverse ecosystem should be created by companion planting, under sowing, and mixed cropping. This mimics the natural environment rather than monocultures which conventional agriculture opts for.
5. Organic and mineral fertilisers may only be applied of adequate nutrition of the crop or soil is not possible through the above methods. This limits the dependency on fertilisers and encourages farmers to use natural methods.
6. Naturally occurring mineral nitrogen fertiliser products are prohibited.
What does this mean? That organic farming methods depend on natural nutrient cycling in the system to ensure the soil remains healthy and can produce nutrient rich produce. This allows for minimal to no use of fertilisers, preserving vital top soils , and supporting diverse and resilient ecosystems.
Brought in Materials
To ensure no contamination between conventional agricultural methods and organic farming, the operators must ensure that all brought in materials are free from contamination agents . This means there are strict limitations to what materials are allowed to be using on organic certified land.
The regulations include:
1. Farmers refuse material if they pose a risk status to the Organic Certification standard.
2. They must get written acceptance from the CO if the brought in materials are not included in the certification standard lists.
3. Polycinylchloride-based products are strictly prohibited, and only polyethylene and polypropylene are allowed as synthetic materials. These must then be removed and not burned on the organic certified land to eliminate contamination. This is to avoid chemical leaching into the groundwater and earth, and minimising waste, plastic pollution, and contamination.
4. Any plastics used during weed matting must be removed at the end of the production season to once again minimise microplastics ending up in the earth, or polluting groundwater.
5. All manures must be composted prior to being used in the production of certified organic produce. This allows the manure to decompose and gain vital microorganisms to maximally benefit the farmland.
6. There is a limit of 20t per hectare per year of manure input allowed.
7. Seeds and all propagation material must be all certified organic.
8. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) products are prohibited in all aspects of organic production systems and products.
What does this mean? Any manures, materials, or propagation aids that are brought into the organic farming practise must be certified organic. If they are synthetic they must be removed at the end of the season and disposed of properly.
Water Management and Ecology
Ensuring efficient use of water is one of the primary goals of organic farming, to enhance the ecology and minimise water waste. In Australia, water scarcity is a real issue and is impacting the world food security. Now in the time of climate change , it is more important than ever for farmers to use their water smarty and maximise catchments, and natural water systems. To achieve this, required practises include:
1. Enhancing soil water retention through humus, mulching to keep soil moisture, water catchment areas on the farm, and frequent monitoring of evaporation and tensiometers.
2. Water leaving the farm needs to be of the same quality as the one applied and used on watering the crops, to ensure safety of the local environment.
3. Waterways need to be managed to ensure the protection, and growth of natural water features in the surrounding area.
4. Untreated greywater or waste water may not be used on crop production areas. Reclaimed water may only be used after it has entered a waterway system with flowing waters to reintegrate the natural environment prior to returning it to the farm.
5. Reclaimed water must be continuously monitored against contamination residues to ensure the food safety, and surrounding environment.
What does this mean? Water management is in place to maximise the effectiveness in hydrating plants and soil, along with proper methods to ensure any runoff does not damage the surrounding environment.
Pests, Disease and Weed Management
The management of pests, disease, and weed should be focused on the health management of the soil, crops, and livestock. This allows the system to have resilience against pests, diseases and weeds and minimised the dependence on fertilisers and pesticides unlike conventional agriculture.
The regulations for this management include:
1. If the crops are under imminent threat, the use of controlling substances are permitted if the health management failed to work. The allowed active ingredients in these substances are listed in the Annex created by the Australian Certified Organic.
2. In ideal scenarios, proactive management should focus on through the ways of
a. Appropriate selection of genetic stock which thrives in the local region
b. Biological control agents in predator habitats
c. Rotational systems for livestock grazing
d. Mechanical controls including barriers, light, and sound
e. Mulching and slashing
f. Flame and steam weeding
g. Mineral and biological balance of the soil.
3. Products such as nicotine, rotenone, and other naturally occurring products are prohibited.
4. If the use noxious weed or pest control is required by the state, the certified areas of land shall disqualify from being able to hold an organic certification for 12 months.
What does this mean? To meet the organic standard, proper soil management partnered with keeping nutrients and healthy soil structure will aid in minimising the risks of pests, and disease on the farmland. A balanced ecosystem, with microbially thriving soil improves the resilience of crops against outside risks, minimising the dependence on pesticides.
Environment Management and Social Policy
Organic farming practises put an emphasis on the management, protection, and enhancement of biodiversity to minimise the impact of native flora and fauna. Which means the farmers are working with the native habitats on and surrounding their farms, to create a symbiotic system rather.
When undertaking farming practises, operators must consider:
1. The impact of the hydrological issues and decreased habitats for the native animals. To minimise these, it is encouraged to install shelterbelts , corridors, wetlands and vegetation protection are encouraged within the property.
2. Management should have a regionally native tree , bush or native grassland area to cover an area greater than 5% of the total farmland.
3. Monitoring of areas deemed of natural significance by the certification office is required to ensure ongoing sustainable practises. This monitoring can take the form of regular still photos, or other data gathering practises.
4. Practises should aim to conserve non-renewable resources to minimise environmental and carbon impact, and environmental pollution.
What does this mean? Organic farming operators aim to reduce the environmental footprint of their practises by ensuring the preservation of native flora and fauna, partaking in environmental monitoring and minimising non-renewable resource use.
Why buy organic?
As you can see, for a producer to be certified as organic, the whole system of the farm is heavily scrutinised and monitored by the certification association. The goal is to ensure a coherent, cyclical system that minimises harm to the surrounding environment while cultivating healthy soil.
When buying organic, you are not only buying food that is better for your health, you are also investing in the kind of Australia you want to see.
Organic farmers work together with nature to produce food for you and your family.
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