Currently, hydroponics (growing plants in water) or other container growing systems (growing plants in a nutrient free substrate like peat moss or coconut coir and then adding micronized fish or hydrolyzed soy for nutrition for the plants) are being allowed under the USDA’s National Organic Program.
Why is this a problem?
Organic was founded on the basis of growing plants in the soil. Period.
People buy organic because it tastes better, has superior nutrition and is optimal for the environment. And this is all the result of the rich soil in organic farms.
Despite the fact that it does have tremendous value to society, growing plants in water or container systems are just not organic. The language in the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990, which was ratified by Congress, affirms this stance.
The USDA defines soil as:
The unconsolidated mineral or organic material on the immediate surface of the Earth that serves as a natural medium for the growth of land plants.
(ii)The unconsolidated mineral or organic matter on the surface of the Earth that has been subjected to and shows effects of genetic and environmental factors of: climate (including water and temperature effects), and macro and microorganisms, conditioned by relief, acting on parent material over a period of time.
Section 6513 b-1 of OFPA says that:
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.
Because of this language, hydroponics or other container growing systems cannot be legally justified under the OFPA. Yet, they are being allowed, and neither the USDA nor the NOSB, which advises the USDA about organic rules and regulations, are taking the necessary steps to prohibit these growing methods under organic.
Why is this?
Money, of course.
Big corporate organic interests have pressured the USDA and NOSB to allow hydroponics and other container growing systems, and at each NOSB meeting they do nothing but try to confuse members as a stall tactic.
They push for more discussion, present more research, roll out more scientific papers, fly in more experts from around the world about what constitutes a container growing system and whether it is nutritionally equivalent to a soil-based system. This has gone on for 10 years with absolutely no end and no clarity in sight.
Meanwhile, the organic hydroponics industry is estimated now to be worth $1 billion, and experts scare NOSB members into thinking that eliminating hydroponics and other container-based growing systems would have disastrous economic consequences for the industry and consumers. Like master tacticians, these industry experts and lobbyists are now playing the “Too Big to Fail” card.
As confusion and disagreement abound among NOSB members, the can inevitably gets kicked down the road every single meeting, year after year, including this most recent one in Denver.
The only questions that the NOSB should be asking itself, which I put forth in my public testimony, are the following:
Under OFPA, is a soil-based growing system mandatory?
If the answer is ‘yes’, which the language in OFPA clearly affirms, why are we having any discussion about any type of container system?
There is no doubt that hydroponics and container-based systems benefit society. No one is debating that.
However, they are not organic, and I believe that these systems are in complete violation of the true meaning, spirit and intent of the Organic Foods Production Act.
Unless something is done, organic hydroponics will continue to flourish and an increasing number of soil-based, family farms will disappear. More and more of our fruits and vegetables will be grown in water, robbing us of the essence and life force that we so desperately need and desire from organic food.
Big corporate interests are changing the very nature of organic production right before our eyes. And in the process, they are also robbing from us the soul of organic.
Are we going to let this happen?