The Organic Farmers Association (OFA) is raising concern with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recent statement that “Certification of hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic operations is allowed under the USDA organic regulations, and has been since the National Organic Program began,” labeling this action as revisionist history and an incorrect interpretation of organic law.
The statement was released by the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service on Jan. 25, 2018.
“The USDA has several times in the past sought guidance from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) on the advisability of allowing hydroponic production to be certified organic,” said Francis Thicke, OFA policy committee chair and outgoing NOSB member. “This issue is far from settled.”
The association pointed out that in 2010 the NOSB, in a 14 to 1 vote, recommended that hydroponic production not be allowed to be certified organic, stating “systems of crop production that eliminate soil from the system, such as hydroponics or aeroponics, cannot be considered as an example of acceptable organic farming practices…due to their exclusion of the soil-plant ecology intrinsic to organic farming systems and USDA/NOP regulations governing them.”
The USDA National Organic Program did not follow through on that NOSB recommendation. However, most USDA-accredited certifying agencies have avoided certifying hydroponic operations because of the long-standing requirement—rooted in the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA)—that organic production must be in the soil.
“There are no federal standards for certifying hydroponic production as organic,” said Jim Riddle, OFA steering committee chair and former NOSB member.
Organic Farmers Association said OFPA—the enabling legislation that created the National Organic Program—indicates that organic production must be soil-based.
Quoting the Act: “An organic plan shall contain provisions designed to foster soil fertility, primarily through the management of the organic content of the soil through proper tillage, crop rotation, and manuring.”
Further, Organic Farmers Association asserts that no legal justification accompanied USDA’s recent position of unconditional allowance for organic certification of hydroponic production.
“The notice contained no OFPA or NOP rule citations to justify the novel position being taken by USDA,” Riddle said. “Further, the notice contained no guidance to certifying agencies on how to certify operations that do not comply with most NOP requirements.”
To view the recent statement issued by the USDA on hydroponics, visit https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDAAMS/bulletins/1cde3b0