NOSB Crops Subcommittee Preparing to Release Discussion Document on Role of Hydroponics in USDA Organic Program

The Crops Subcommittee of the National Organic Standards Board voted to release in time for the Spring 2017 NOSB meeting a discussion document for organic stakeholders to review. Based on the meeting notes that have been released to date, it is expected that the discussion document will establish the foundations for why hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic production systems should not be allowed for certification under the US Department of Agriculture National Organic Program. It appears that the new members to the NOSB requested that only a discussion document be released rather than a formal recommendation to allow the new NOSB members time to learn more about the issue before making a formal recommendation. In addition, some members wanted to make sure that all container systems are studied and voted on together; however, the lead members of the subcommittee indicated that a container document would not be ready in time for the Spring 2017 NOSB meeting.

In short, the NOSB will not vote on any formal recommendations that would trigger USDA to formally begin the process to change existing policy that permits container systems, including hydroponics at the Spring 2017 meeting. Nonetheless, the Spring 2017 meeting will likely define the issue for the new board members. It will be the best opportunity to educate the new board members and allow them to hear directly from growers how container and hydroponic systems meet the spirit and legal requirements of the organic movement. It is likely that the Crops Subcommittee will vote on a formal recommendation sometime during the summer of 2017 to set up a formal vote later in 2017.

The next NOSB meeting will be held in Denver, Colorado from April 19-21, 2017.

Growers that use all types of container systems will need to stay united to have the best chance of preserving their current production methods in addition to preserving their ability to continue to innovate their production practices. We will send you a link to the Discussion Document when it becomes available.

New Organic Livestock Rules Put on Temporary Hold by New Administration

The US Department of Agriculture published rules in the closing days of the Obama Administration to establish new regulations covering changes to Organic Livestock and Poultry Handling. The Trump Administration issued an order on their first day suspending the implementation of major rules implemented in the final days of the Obama Administration to allow the new leadership an opportunity to review the rules before the become effective. This means that the new livestock rules will not go into effect until May 19, assuming that the new team does not see a need to modify the new rules.

There is nothing specific about the organic rule nor a known special desire by anyone in the White House to influence organic policy that is causing the delay. Rather, it is a standard practice used by incoming Administrations to review significant rules passed in the closing days of the previous Administration.

It should be noted that there is still no confirmation hearing scheduled for Sonny Perdue, the nominee for the Secretary of Agriculture. This means that it is unclear if there will be the appropriate additional political staff in place to truly have an opportunity to review the rule before May 19.

Livestock and Poultry Handling Practices Rule Defines Soil and Provides for 3 to 5 Year Phase-Out Periods under new USDA Organic Regulations

While the Final Rule for Livestock Handling is being delayed as noted above, there are some aspects that may have an impact on the container and hydroponic debates within the NOSB.

Soil is defined for the first time under the Organic Regulations. Soil is defined as “the outermost layer of the earth comprised of minerals, water, air, organic matter, fungi and bacteria in which plants may grow roots.” The implication is that once soil is placed in a container, it is no longer considered soil.

Vegetation is also newly defined as “living plant matter that is anchored in the soil by roots and provides ground cover.

In addition, USDA created provisions to allow existing producers to amortize at least some of their investments in existing structures that will no longer be compliant with the new rule. Specifically, USDA is allowing a three year period for operations to come into compliance with the indoor space requirements and five years to come into compliance with the outdoor space requirements. If the USDA were ever to decide to no longer allow certain types of currently certified organic fruit, vegetable, herb, sprout and mushroom facilities to remain in the organic program, we would hope that USDA would also allow a period to allow existing certified operations to continue to grow and sell their product to better amortize their investments made in good faith.

Opportunities to Participate in NOSB Process

While the USDA National Organic Program has not yet not released the Hydroponic Discussion Document, , the USDA has opened the official comment period for the April NOSB meeting. Once there is there is a public document, the CSO will work with producers to develop a detailed formal response as well as templates for you and your customers.

You can submit comments by clicking on the following link and then following the instructions. The deadline to submit written comments is 11:59 p.m. ET on March 30, 2017.

In addition, please consider registering online to provide oral public comments at the Spring NOSB meeting. This will be your opportunity to directly address members of the NOSB. Oral public comments are scheduled in two (2) blocks:

Thursday, April 13, 2017, 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. ET, via webinar; (3 minute comment slot)
Wednesday/Thursday, April 19-20, 2017, at the face-to-face meeting in Denver, Colorado; (3 minute comment slot)

Join the Coalition for Sustainable Organics

Please consider joining the Coalition for Sustainable Organics. Your membership makes our voice much more powerful in influencing the struggle to keep container methods in the USDA organic program.

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