Organic farming is a farming principle which focuses on inputs, specifically, it requires that inputs used in farming be generally organic chemicals derived from nature. The term is often used in contrast to conventional farming which is marked by the use of many inorganic compounds such as synthetic nitrogenous fertilizers, (like urea and ammonium nitrate) and inorganic biocides like glyphosate(glyphosate).
Despite the broad usage of the term, there is widespread misunderstanding about what terms like "organic" and "USDA Organic" actually mean.
The organic standard, being a legally defined and regulated body of rules, is largely a prohibitive standard, rather than a positive set of principles, which are difficult to formalize into rules. For this reason many beyond organic agricultural movements have been developed. Many have been critical of the organic standards.
Traditional farming (of many kinds) was the original type of agriculture, and has been practiced for thousands of years. Forest gardening, a traditional food production system which dates from prehistoric times, is thought to be the world's oldest and most resilient agroecosystem.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>
Artificial fertilizers had been created during the 18th century, initially with superphosphates and then ammonia-based fertilizers mass-produced using the Haber-Bosch process developed during World War I. These early fertilizers were cheap, powerful, and easy to transport in bulk. Similar advances occurred in chemical pesticides in the 1940s, leading to the decade being referred to as the 'pesticide era'.<ref name=Horne2>Template:Cite book</ref> But these new agricultural techniques, while beneficial in the short term, had serious longer term side effects such as soil compaction, soil erosion, and declines in overall soil fertility, along with health concerns about toxic chemicals entering the food supply.<ref name=Stinner2007>Template:Cite book ebook ISBN 978-1-84593-289-3</ref>Template:Rp
Soil biology scientists began in the late 1800s and early 1900s to develop theories on how new advancements in biological science could be used in agriculture as a way to remedy these side effects, while still maintaining higher production. In Central Europe Rudolf Steiner, whose Lectures on Agriculture were published in 1925.<ref name=Paull/><ref>Template:Cite journal</ref><ref name=Kirchmann>Holger Kirchmann and Lars Bergström, editors. Organic Crop Production – Ambitions and Limitations Springer. Berlin 2008.</ref>Template:Rp<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> created biodynamic agriculture, an early version of what we now call organic agriculture.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref><ref>Biodynamics is listed as a "modern organic agriculture" system in: Minou Yussefi and Helga Willer (Eds.), The World of Organic Agriculture: Statistics and Future Prospects, 2003, p. 57</ref><ref>Biodynamic agriculture is "a type of organic system". Charles Francis and J. van Wart (2009), "History of Organic Farming and Certification", in Organic farming: the ecological system. American Society of Agronomy. pp. 3-18</ref> Steiner was motivated by spiritual rather than scientific considerations.<ref name=Kirchmann/>Template:Rp
In the late 1930s and early 1940s Sir Albert Howard and his wife Gabrielle Howard, both accomplished botanists, developed organic agriculture. The Howards were influenced by their experiences with traditional farming methods in India, biodynamic, and their formal scientific education.<ref name=Paull>Paull, John (2006) The Farm as Organism: The Foundational Idea of Organic Agriculture Elementals ~ Journal of Bio-Dynamics Tasmania 83:14–18</ref> Sir Albert Howard is widely considered to be the "father of organic farming", because he was the first to apply scientific knowledge and principles to these various traditional and more natural methods.<ref name=autogenerated2>Template:Cite book ebook ISBN 978-1-84593-289-3</ref>Template:Rp In the United States another founder of organic agriculture was J.I. Rodale. In the 1940s he founded both a working organic farm for trials and experimentation, The Rodale Institute, and founded the Rodale Press to teach and advocate organic to the wider public. Further work was done by Lady Eve Balfour in the United Kingdom, and many others across the world.
There is some controversy on where the term "organic" as it applies to agriculture first derived. One side claims term 'organic agriculture' was coined by Lord Northbourne, an agriculturalist influenced by Steiner's biodynamic approach, in 1940. This side claims the term as meaning the farm should be viewed as a living organism and stems from Steiner's non scientific anthroposophy.<ref name=Betteshanger>Paull, John (2011) "The Betteshanger Summer School: Missing link between biodynamic agriculture and organic farming", Journal of Organic Systems, 2011, 6(2):13-26.</ref> The second claim is that "organic" derives from the work of early soil scientists that were developing what was then called "humus farming". Thus in this more scientific view the use of organic matter to improve the humus content of soils is the basis for the term and this view was popularized by Howard and Rodale. Since the early 1940s both camps have tended to merge.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
Increasing environmental awareness in the general population in modern times has transformed the originally supply-driven organic movement to a demand-driven one. Premium prices and some government subsidies attracted farmers. In the developing world, many producers farm according to traditional methods which are comparable to organic farming but are not certified and may or may not include the latest scientific advancements in organic agriculture. In other cases, farmers in the developing world have converted to modern organic methods for economic reasons.<ref>Paull, John "China's Organic Revolution", Journal of Organic Systems (2007) 2 (1): 1-11.</ref>