Vegetable Image Gallery
Vegetable Image Gallery

Conservation agriculture is becoming a popular alternative to traditional farming methods. See more vegetable pictures.

Courtesy U.S. White House Office of Management and Budget

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Organic farming has positioned itself as the current state of the art in "green" agriculture. The industry has exploded, growing by 20 percent every year since the late '90s [source: OFRF]. "Organic" isn't only a top choice for the very health-conscious, but also for the ecologically conscious: In organics, synthetic chemicals that can damage the land and leech into rivers are a no-no, and particular crops are planted where they'll thrive naturally, instead of adjusting the land to suit the desired product.

In terms of health, it's a logical jump to say that a naturally grown carrot could be better for us than ­one grown using, say, pesticides. But is organic farming as healthy for the Earth as it is for our bodies?

Another approach to farming has emerged that raises this very question. It's not a household word like "organic," but it has been around as a cohesive agricultural practice for decades. Farmers practice conservation agriculture (CA) around the world, but it's only now starting to get a lot of press as an eco-friendly approach to agriculture. CA is challenging organic farming for the greenest of the green labels.

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Both methods try to maintain a balance between agriculture and resources. Conservation farming and organic farming rotate crops in order to keep the land fertile, plant cover crops to retain water, and replenish soil's organic matter to cultivate pest-resistance and high nutrient value. Boiled down to its most basic, there is one primary difference between organic and conservation agriculture: Organic farmers till (plow) the soil to prepare for planting, while conservation farmers avoid tilling unless there's no other choice. They leave the soil cover intact and get the seeds in the ground another way.

­In this article, we'll look at organic and conservation agricultures from the perspective of environmental friendliness. Should organic really be at the top of the green food chain? What's the issue with tilling, anyway? Let's take a look at what tilling is, what it's used for and what long-term effects it has on the land. The plough is such an ancient part of farming -- how can it be bad?