The organic movement began in the 1930s and 1940s as a reaction to agriculture's growing reliance on synthetic fertilizers. Artificial fertilizers had been created during the 18th century, initially with superphosphates and then ammonia derived 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. The 1940s has been referred to as the 'pesticide era'. Sir Albert Howard is widely considered to be the father of organic farming. Rudolf Steiner , an Austrian philosopher, made important strides in the earliest organic theory with his biodynamic agriculture. More work was done by J.I. Rodale in the United States, Lady Eve Balfour in the United Kingdom, and many others across the world.

As a percentage of total agricultural output, organic farming has remained tiny since its beginning. As environmental awareness and concern increased, the originally supply-driven movement became demand-driven. Standardized certification brought premium prices, and in some cases government subsidies attracted many farmers into converting. In the developing world, many farmers farm according to traditional methods but are not certified. In other cases, farmers in the developing world have converted out of necessity. As a proportion of total global agricultural output, organic output remains small, but it has been growing rapidly in many countries, notably in Europe.


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