No changes to organic standards for containers, hydroponics and aquaponics

National Organic Standards Board Rejects Recommendation to Remove Container, Hydroponic and Aquaponic Production Methods from Eligibility for USDA Organic Certification.

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 ratio requirements and to limit delivery of nutrients through irrigation systems 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.

Greenhouse production practices to be discussed on Thursday by NOSB

The NOSB will begin discussions on the need to create modifications to the standards regarding the use of artificial light, the composting and disposal of green waste and substrate after a production cycle, requirements to recycle containers, and the use of plastic mulches and weed cloth in greenhouse and container operations. No votes are scheduled for these topics.

CSO thanks all growers who contributed their views through written or oral testimony

The CSO wishes to express its gratitude to the roughly 70 producers from all sides of the issue who delivered oral comments and the hundreds of individuals that submitted written comments. The Coalition especially appreciates the time of the many growers who volunteered their time to help educate members of the NOSB and the organic community. Ultimately, both the quantity and quality of the voices explaining the importance of preserving the rights of growers to determine the most appropriate growing method for their site-specific conditions led to this mostly positive outcome.

What happens next?

The vote did not resolve the long-standing issue of the lack of consistency in how accredited auditors review the farms and production facilities of growers that incorporate containers in their systems. The members of the NOSB and the USDA NOP staff will determine in the coming hours, days and weeks if there is value in continuing work on proposed regulations that would impact other aspects of greenhouse and container production systems. The CSO will be there to protect your interests.

Everyone deserves organics

The most viable option to achieve this goal is to use all certified systems and scales of production, not to kick certain growing practices out of the industry. The organic industry should embrace and promote diversity rather than stifle it. Organic production should not be limited to annual crops grown in temperate climates with high rainfall and killing freezes in the winter. The NOSB should be ensuring that organic rules do not arbitrarily discriminate against production in urban, desert, or tropical areas, nor should they exclude other systems that use containers and greenhouses. We should trust growers to make their own determination to know when growing in the soil or in containers make the most sense for the protection of the consumer and the ecology we all share.

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