(UPDATED, Nov. 3) At long last, hydroponic organic produce suppliers can breathe easier.
By a vote of 8 to 7, the National Organic Standards Board on Nov. 1 rejected proposals to make hydroponic and aquaponic production methods prohibited under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.
The prelude to the NOSB meeting generated intense lobbying efforts by the National Organic Coalition, the Cornucopia Institute and others promoting the necessity of soil-based organic production systems.
However, their efforts to prohibit hydroponic systems for organic production were turned back by the NOSB, delivering a win to organic producers such as Wholesum Harvest and the greenhouse lobbying group, the Coalition for Sustainable Organics.
The issue had been debated by organic growers and marketers since 1995.
“I’m very pleased we had a majority vote against the proposal to make these production approaches prohibited,” said Lee Frankel, executive director for the Coalition for Sustainable Organics.
He said the proposal to prohibit hydroponics would have removed significant supplies of currently certified organic fresh vegetables and fruits from the market. The NOSB also rejected a proposal — by the same 8 to 7 vote — to create prescriptive nitrogen ratio requirements and to limit delivery of nutrients through irrigation systems of hydroponic operations, Frankel said.
There are likely more than 100 hydroponic operations in the U.S. that are certified as organic, Frankel said.
The board did vote to make aeroponics a prohibited practice by a vote of 14 in favor of the ban, with one member abstaining. That won’t have an impact on organic supply, Frankel said, as he understands there are no aeroponic operations currently certified as organic. Several firms researching aeroponic technology for organic production were waiting on the NOSB vote before attempting to become certified as organic, he said. “It is highly unlikely that people will continue to spend any more time, money or effort to figure out how to make those systems (with organic),” Frankel said Nov. 2.
The recommendation on aeroponics will go to the USDA, which will decide whether to adopt them through a formal rulemaking process.
A USDA spokesperson said in an Nov. 2 e-mail said that both hydroponic and aquaponic production systems remain eligible for organic certification. While the board passed a proposal to recommend prohibition of aeroponics systems in organic production, the spokesperson said certification of aeroponic operations also remains allowed while USDA considers the board’s work on this topic.
Frankel said the board was expected to begin discussions on greenhouse production methods, including the use of artificial light, composting and green waste, requirements to recycle containers, and the use of plastic mulches and weed cloth in greenhouse and container operations. He said no votes are expected on those topics Nov. 2. P Still left unresolved, Frankel said, is the lingering issue of the lack of consistency in how accredited auditors review the farms and production facilities of growers that incorporate hydroponics and container growing methods in their systems.
Want to know more about organic produce? Register for The Packer’s inaugural Global Organic Produce Expo, Jan. 25-27, in Hollywood, Fla.