Appendix J to the Hydroponic and Aquaponic Task Force Report: Letter from Michael Sligh
(This is a statement by the founding chair of the NOSB concerning the key 1995 recommendation on hydroponics passed by the NOSB. This recommendation is the foundation of the current allowance of hydroponics and debate over the proper role of soil in organic systems.)
I am Michael Sligh, and was a founding member of the NOSB from 1992-1997 and served as the founding chair and vice-chair to the second chair. I did publish, A Guide To The Development of US. Organic Standards, in 1997, that contains all of the Original NOSB recommendation to USDA for the development of the US Organic Regulations.
This record records that the Board did pass a three line recommendation on April, 25, 1995:
Hydroponic production in soilless media to be labeled organically produced shall be allowed, if all provisions of the OFPA have been met.
We had been required to make some recommendations on a wide range of specialized subjects prior to submitting our final recommendation to USDA for the development of US NOP regulations. The Hydroponic discussion was very short and consisted of only a few minutes of full board discussion during our April, 25, (1995) meeting. USDA’s own transcripts from the period of 1992 – 1995, also only records this same one reference from that April 25th meeting, but it does add that:
“Kahn* concluded his report by reading the hydroponics recommendation that would allow organic labeling for products from soilless media if all other National Program requirements are satisfied. Baker expressed his concerns about the philosophical problems associated with soilless production. Kahn noted that the recommendation only allows for the possibility of an organic hydroponics industry developing. Kahn recognized that hydroponics is a practice that is dependent on synthetic inputs and wants to open up dialogue with its proponents.”
* Gene Kahn was the chair of the Crops Committee during that period and wanted a “place holder” for future discussions.
On a personal note, my understanding of that statement, that “all provisions of OFPA have been met”, was the key to my voting for that very brief recommendation. As one that both worked on the OFPA and as the founding chair and a founding board member; I understood OFPA to be about organic farming, which meant that the goal, (as our NOSB definition of organic farming stated and was also adopted at that same April meeting in Orlando, states” …based on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony….The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.”
Additionally, the OFPA refers to soil about ten times:
“(b) Crop production farm plan.
(1) Soil fertility. 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.
(A) Inclusion in organic plan. An organic plan shall contain terms and conditions that regulate the application of manure to crops.”
So, in conclusion, in my opinion OPFA includes the “following key provisions that must be met” – “would include a farm plan; that fosters soil fertility, includes crop rotations, is compatible with a system of sustainable agriculture, does not harm soil organisms and does not include any production practices that are inconsistent with this chapter.”
Hope this helps,
all the best,