Let's take flight with organic agriculture

Maureen Wilmot's picture
On Friday, thousands of volunteers will flock to fields and shorelines with binoculars for the start of the 113th Annual National Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Last week, I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peak of what birders will see. I had the pleasure of introducing, Mike Sutton, the new Executive Director of California Audubon to the Lundberg Family Farms family members in the Sacramento Delta.

As we walked on levies overlooking plowed and flooded rice fields, Bryce and Jessica Lundberg shared their family’s conservation perspectives and measures. In the distant, I saw a black cloud move toward us. It was a huge flock of ducks coming to land in a nearby field. Every year more than four million birds winter in this important habitat in the Sacramento Delta. Swans, white pelicans and Sand Hill Cranes also winter here in this forage-rich environment.
Audubon wants to increase habitat for migrating and nesting waterfowl and shorebirds. For years they have worked with farmers in the Delta to provide flooded fields for the annual migration along the Pacific Flyway. Last week’s meeting was an opportunity to share the many benefits organic farming provides for waterfowl and shorebirds. 
The Lundbergs have been longtime guardians of the habitat that they farm. While they are in the business of growing rice, they also ensure soil and wildlife preservation. Every year they work with local conservation groups to gather waterfowl nests that use their fields.  Their fields are particularly desirable to fowl as they have been nurtured and covered cropped. 
Certified organic farmers in the United States (per the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990) conserve biodiversity on their farms. Because of their diversified cropping systems, organic farms support larger populations of beneficial organisms such as songbirds and pollinators. Conserving biodiversity can benefit the farm and the larger landscape. Agriculture that provides natural habitat can meet the needs of multiple species, support pollination and pest control, protect water quality, and make a meaningful contribution to regional conservation efforts.
Organic farms support diverse populations of songbird and migratory bird populations, native bees that pollinate crops, balanced populations of beneficial insects that help keep crop pests under control, and an array of soil macro- and microorganisms that decompose dead and waste materials and recycle nutrients. Organic farms often employ conservation practices that provide increased habitat for a wide diversity of species, both riparian and terrestrial. Crop rotation, cover cropping, and leaving fields fallow are very common organic food production practices that enhance soil biodiversity and provide diverse habitat for wildlife. Additionally, many farms maintain native hedgerows and wild habitat around their perimeters, which serve as buffers against non-organic contamination, and provide abundant habitat for wildlife. In fact, organic farms, due to their symbiotic relationship with the earth’s natural systems, often serve as habitat corridors for migratory species.    
Studies have shown that organic farms provide safe, productive habitat for songbirds and migratory birds at far greater levels than non-organic farms. A two-year study in Nebraska found that fields on organic farms had both more birds and more bird species than were found on non-organic farms, while Florida research found that the practice of intercropping sunflower into organic vegetable fields increased “incidence, abundance, and foraging activity” by insect-eating native birds. 
After our tour, we enjoyed a lunch of sustainable seafood and a delicious rice dish. We talked about our mutual goals. The Lundbergs Family Farms want to produce the best rice and rice products while being stewards of the land their grand parents starting farming in the 30’s. They can do this as organic farmers. California Audubon wants to increase the habitat available for migrating and nesting waterfowl and shorebirds along the Pacific Flyway, and Organic Farming Research Foundation wants to build support and the infrastructure of organic farmers in this country. Together, we will all take flight.

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