Eighteen months ago, the outlook for hydroponic, aquaponic, and containerized growing methods in the National Organic Program looked bleak. A small, yet vocal, minority in the organic sector had mounted a campaign within the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to prohibit these production methods from organic certifications despite a lack of scientific basis to do so. Through the hard work and dedication of CSO’s Board and member companies, we were able to launch a strategic advocacy plan to push back against this unfair and arbitrary effort. After three failed votes in the NOSB, our place in the organic industry is safe for now but more work is needed to ensure the continued success of these systems.
As the NOSB considers additional potential regulations that may impact your on-farm practices, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to educate policymakers on the integrity and sustainability of your production systems. The CSO still needs you as a member to fight the good fight and ensure a sustainable future in the U.S. organic industry for farmers incorporating containers in their operations. Please fill out the linked application form today to join the CSO.
The CSO is closely monitoring the following additional potential threats to hydroponic, aquaponics and containerized growing methods:
1) Some Certifiers Continue to Refuse to Certify Legitimate Organic Operations: In spite of the recent NOSB votes rejecting proposals to prohibit container, hydroponic, and aquaponic production tools used by organic growers, widespread inconsistencies remain between USDA-authorized certifiers. Many certifiers are defying USDA regulations and refusing to certify operations incorporating containers beyond their use for nursery stock. Other certifiers will certify growers using certain types of substrate, but not growers using Nutrient Film Technique or Floating Raft Systems regardless of the fact they have created complex, living biological systems to cycle nutrients in an organic manner.
2) NOSB’s Next Steps for Containers Remains Unknown: At the close of the November 2017 NOSB meeting, the Board released a draft agenda indicating a plan to continue to pursue additional recommendations to revise USDA’s organic standards related to containers including potential regulations on new labeling requirements and the reuse and recycling of containers. This remaining uncertainty hurts growers and producers looking to make investments and upgrades.
3) Groups Opposed to Organic Certification for Containers Threaten Legal Action: After their latest setback at the NOSB, our opponents are now planning to file legal action against the USDA over the current certification policy that does allow for container production systems. Specifically, they claim that the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and as amended REQUIRES that crops must be grown in the soil. The CSO stands ready to defend the rights and interests of its members.
4) Voluntary “Regenerative Organic” Label Efforts Move Forward: The Rodale Institute is leading efforts to create a new, and at this time voluntary, label currently taking the name of Regenerative Organics. This label would exclude containers from participation. Groups like the Organic Consumers Association are coalescing around this effort. Details of that standard can be found here. The idea is to add specific requirements for soil management including tillage practices as well as social justice and animal welfare elements that are not part of the current USDA standard.
Your Help Is Needed
The CSO needs your continued participation in efforts to safeguard your rights to select the most appropriate growing methods in your organic operations. Our opponents continue to push Congress to pass restrictions on our operations and will only ramp up their efforts after their defeat at the NOSB.
Actions to take:
- Send a version of the draft letter below.
- Offer a tour of your operations to the Member or staff.
- Visit Washington, DC to see your Member of Congress. If you are a member of CSO our team in will coordinate meetings on your behalf.
Please forward any notes and the contact information you gathered during the visit to Lee Frankel at info@coalitionforsustainableor
Thanks for your help.
Sample Letter to email or fax
The Honorable XXXXXX
United States House of Representatives or United States Senate
Dear Representative XXXXXX,
As your constituent, I am writing to invite you to visit our farming operation to learn more about the use of hydroponic/container/aquaponic cultivation to grow certified organic produce for our community.
Our company grows [list your products here] in [city of facility/farm] and employs XXX people. In addition, we are perfecting our growing methods to expand our line into more and more fresh produce items. Our current production is helping to make fresher produce available to our community and alleviating food deserts in the area. We achieved certification under the U.S. Department of Agriculture and take pride in meeting all the necessary requirements under the law to meet this incredibly high standard.
You may be aware that, over the last few years, USDA’s advisory committee on organic agriculture, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), has been considering multiple proposals to revoke the existing organic certifications for growers using hydroponic methods to produce fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruit. While the latest proposal was defeated by an 8 to 7 vote, the NOSB continues to examine ways to limit our ability to maintain our organic certification through their insistence that only farms that look like theirs should carry the organic label.
This is an unnecessary and burdensome action that will significantly impact our livelihood, jobs in your district, and reduce the availability and accessibility of fresh organic produce. If the use of these innovative and practical growing techniques is limited, our company will no longer be permitted to continue to produce certified organic fresh produce, and our economic potential will be significantly impacted.
I look forward to welcoming you to our operation to demonstrate our use of these techniques to help meet the rising consumer demand for organic produce.
Thank you for your consideration. You can contact me at [email address] or by phone at [phone number].