Organic board decides hydroponic can be certified organic

National Organic Standards Board votes on whether to change federal organic standards to allow for hydroponically produced products.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

November 3, 2017

3 Min Read
Organic board decides hydroponic can be certified organic

At the semi-annual meeting of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), front and center was the debate about whether to change the federal organic standards to allow organic produce grown hydroponically.

In a series of 8-7 votes, the NOSB voted that hydroponic and aquaponic growers can continue to market certified organic products.

The action is a recommendation from the NOSB to USDA. The National Organic Standards Board voted on four separate proposals related to soil-less production in organic:

A motion to prohibit aeroponics in organic passed 14 yes, 1 abstention.

·         A motion to prohibit aquaponics in organic did not pass, with a majority voting against the motion.

·         A motion to restrict how and when nitrogen can be introduced to organic container production did not pass, with a majority voting against the motion.

·         A motion to prohibit hydroponics, which was defined as any container system that didn't meet the proposed requirements for organic container system did not pass, with a majority voting against the motion. However the vote was 7 in favor and 8 against.

The practice of growing fruits and vegetables in inert mediums that depend on liquid fertilizers, rather than in rich organically managed soil, has been intensely controversial. The Organic Trade Assn. actually opposes aeroponics in organic, and supports the board recommendation to prohibit this in organic.

OTA does not support a system that is entirely water-based and believes it should be prohibited in organic, but OTA did not support the recommendation as written because the Crops Subcommittee had revised the definition for hydroponics by coupling it with proposed production standards for organic container production.  OTA would have supported a motion to prohibit hydroponics had NOSB retained the previously accepted definition for hydroponics.

OTA said it supports container production in organic with clear, meaningful standards, but OTA did not support the recommendation as written before the board, because it did not meet the bar for a clear consensus-based recommendation for the Agriculture Secretary.

NewFoodEconomy said when the federal government first began to explore codifying organic standards into law, soil was an important focus of their efforts.

NewFoodEconomy reported that Fred Kirschenmann, a longtime leader in sustainable agriculture, distinguished fellow at Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and president of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York, said, “Several of us on the board felt that soil health should be part of the requirement for certification. We had a lot of debates about that, but finally the board became convinced that this was an important part of the future of organic certification, and we made that recommendation to the National Organic Standards Board.”

The news source said attorneys at USDA pushed back, according to Kirschenmann.

“They threw it out,” they reported Kirschenmann saying . “In the report they gave back to us, they said that regulations have to be answered with a yes or a no, and requiring soil health is too complex an issue.”

As such USDA insisted on an input-oriented system certification and requires that a farmer use only fertilizers on the approved list, and avoid completely any chemical on the banned list.


About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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