Antonio Cabezón, agronomist and agricultural advisor for Campos Borquez, recently published in the following article describing the ethical challenge in the fertilization of organic crops.

The organic production of fruits and vegetables is an activity that requires a very important technical effort since quality crops must be achieved respecting the safety parameters established for agrochemical residues and chemical fertilizers.

The parameters that must be respected are established by different norms especially developed to serve as a guide in the selection of the permitted inputs to protect and nourish the crops that will be marketed under an “organic” product certification. The NOP (USA) and EU (European) standards are the most important, to which most countries adhere through local regulations based partially or totally on them.

Regarding the fertilization or nutrition of the crops, the organic regulation has in its spirit the conservation of the agricultural soil, a renewable resource that must be taken care of and therefore subject of all the necessary actions to maintain or improve its chemical and physical fertility.

It is known that the nutrient that limits production in most of the agro systems is nitrogen; due to this it receives a special treatment in both the USA and EU standards. In the US, the contribution of nitrogen in terms of the number of units that are allowed via organic sources has no restriction; it even allows applying 20% of the needs of the crop in the form of mineral nitrogen by means of a very specific source. The EU standard, on the other hand, restricts the application of nitrogen, which can only be from organic sources that do not exceed 170 Nitrogen units per year.

Undoubtedly both Regulations seek the “organic” producer to make a systematic effort to recycle their waste at the end of the crop and also to search for organic matter, bio fertilizers, microorganisms, compost, etc., in order to replenish the extractions that they carry out their crops year after year.

To try to explain the ethical challenge that comes with the “organic” production regarding the regulations in force worldwide, we will first say that the control of pests and diseases is carried out with great adherence to the indications given that it is possible to control waste of agrochemicals in crops. The traceability that is currently available from the farm to the supermarket allows easy control and identification of the producer. On the other hand, as regards the nutrition of crops, the ethical challenge is enormous for the following reasons:

• Nutrients from chemical fertilizers can not be detected by analysis of the crops or the growing crop, since there is no way to differentiate them from the natural fertility of the soil or the mineralization of organic matter or compost, for example.

• All the essential nutrients for plant growth are under the problem described in the previous point. But the nutrients N, P, K, S and Mg are the most contributed with sources that are prohibited in current regulations.

Therefore, the possibility of being able to violate the restrictions that the regulations have on the form, moment and amount of nutrients that can be used to obtain a crop that can truly be defined as “organic” is an issue that is currently in the hands of the self-regulation of the producer and will depend on his ethical conduct when facing a market that is the fruit of a community of “organic” producers scattered all over the world.

This unethical behavior, that of fertilizing with unauthorized products given the difficult inspection, generates a significant distortion in the organic market. The fact of not having limitations when it comes to providing nutrients raises the yields and the quality of the “bad organic producer” generating unfair competition on the producer that does respect all the regulations. This problem that seems to be growing must be addressed with great urgency through a certification of high intensity of organic agriculture, ie with a lot of presence in the field, with follow-up to yields, of the purchase of inputs, but above all to certify the contributions of organic matter, composts, earthworm leachates, etc., in other words, the challenge of the certification is to verify the “organic spirit” of the producer.

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