- Hydroponics is a contested area when it comes to organic production. (4:30)
- Some certifiers will certify hydroponics and aquaponics as organic, even though NOSB had recommended against it. (5:00)
- No GMO (genetically modified) seed
- No sewage sludge
- No irradiation
- Promotes ecological diversity
- Promotes soil and water conservation
- Can capture higher prices
- Viewed as positive and safe
- Lots of documentation
- Cost of filing and certification (both monetary and time costs)
- Doesn’t always results in higher prices
- Hydroponics is a contested area
Issues with Organic Hydroponic Certification
This is the biggest area of concern for you farmers. After a quick read through the applicable law, it’s obvious that the organic standards were not written with hydroponic producers in mind. This leaves the interpretation of how organic rules apply to hydroponic farmers according to the certifying agencies.
In 2010, the NOSB actually recommended that hydroponics and aquaponics should not be eligible to be certified under the NOP rules, citing that:
“Organic crops produced in soil-less systems don’t align with the organic principle of ‘Feed the soil, not the plant…’
“The USDA organic regulations require that the organic operation maintain or improve the physical, chemical, and biological condition of the soil…
“Canada and the European Union do not allow organic hydroponic production.”
However, this recommendation was never adopted, leaving the decision up to the certifiers, who are free to make their own interpretations as long as they are within the spirit of the act. Not every certifier will certify a hydroponic or aquaponic farm, and each one may have their own slightly different rules in practice.
This year, the Organic Program has recognized that several certifiers do certify organic hydroponic operations and that their certifications are allowed as long as “the certifier can demonstrate its process for certifying in a way that is compliant.”
Tip: Contact your certifier early on in the process so you can be sure that you’re doing what they want.
The National Organic Program Director of Standards announced on September 2, 2015, that they have appointed a 16-member task force on organic hydroponics and aquaponics, so we could see some changes in the laws in the next decade.
While this may be a big area of contention, don’t let it be the deciding point on whether or not your farm will go organic. If the pros outweigh the cons, go for it!