Hydroponic farmers are USDA Organic said NOSB
The United States is unlike most countries (or regions, like the EU) in that our organic certification can legally be extended to crops that are not grown in soil. Hydroponic and aquaponic produce is, typically, grown in perpetually-flowing water in which nutrients are dissolved, and in the US, some farms using these methods can be certified organic.
On November 1, 2017, thousands of farmers nationwide waited to hear if the National Organics Standards Board, an advisory body to the USDA, would decide that hydroponic and aquaponic farms could remain eligible for the USDA Organic certification – a process which allows products from these farms to carry the USDA Organic label.
For years, hydroponic and aquaponic farms have been certified as USDA Organic. But recently, this certification has been up for discussion. Ultimately, a majority of the Board recognized that expanding the organics program to be inclusive of various types of farming promotes innovation and smart resource use. This makes good sense, especially for a planet with a changing climate, and assorted challenges in reducing use of water, energy and space. Embracing assorted forms of sustainable agriculture makes for a resilient, inclusive and stronger food system for the U.S.
Marianne Cufone (Executive Director), made the following statement in response to the NOSB decision:
“We’re very pleased that the NOSB made the right decision by voting not to prohibit hydroponic and aquaponic farms from USDA Organic certification. Many products from these farms already carry a USDA Organic label and to now withdraw that would be irresponsible and confusing for consumers and farmers.
“By siding with current science and recognizing that existing law purposely leaves the door open for various farming methods, the NOSB is sending a critical message that sustainability and innovation are valuable in U.S. agriculture. These goals are at the center of the nationwide local food movement and spur growth of urban and rural farms alike, by a wide range of people. Inclusiveness is important in our food system.
“The Board did vote to prohibit use of aeroponics in USDA Organic production and indicated they would discuss what type of label hydroponic and aquaponic USDA Organic certified products would display. We will be very involved as these issues move forward.”
The members of the NOSB voted on Wednesday by a margin of 8 to 7 to reject the proposals to make Hydroponic and Aquaponic production methods prohibited practices under the USDA organic standards. In addition, the NOSB rejected the proposal by a vote of 8 to 7 to create prescriptive nitrogen ratios in other container production systems. The proposed definition of hydroponics was any system in a container (roots of a plant not in the outer crust of the Earth) that does not have at least 50 percent of the nitrogen needs of the plant in the container before planting and that no more than 20 percent of nitrogen needs are delivered through the irrigation system, watering cans or in a liquid form.
The NOSB did vote to make aeroponics a prohibited practice by a vote of 14 in favor of the ban with 1 member abstaining from the vote. This recommendation will now go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Given that the NOSB is technically a Federal Advisory Committee, the staff of the National Organic Program and other USDA officials will determine if the USDA will begin formal rulemaking to modify the existing USDA organic standards. The USDA typically will move forward with rule making or return the proposal for additional clarification. Only after a public comment period and regulatory review would the proposal convert into a regulation.