By Melody Meyer
Tom Beddard, Founder & CEO Lady Moon Farms, speaks out against Hydroponics in Organic.
OPN Connect: What are the basic tenets that organic production is based on?
Organic is all about the soil. The most basic belief of organic farming is that all health in plants, livestock, and humans flows from the maintenance and stewarding of healthy soil, with its astounding biological complexity. The organic farmer's first job is always to tend to the life in the soil. If we succeed at that, the rest is easy. The lack of pesticides in organic is meant to be the RESULT of a healthy soil.
OPN Connect: Why do you believe hydroponic and container growing should not be allowed to be certified organic?
Hydroponic certification isn't just an issue for soil vegetable growers. It is an issue for the entire organic community because it represents a forced redefinition of organic agriculture at the most basic level. As such, it is certain to tear the organic community apart and do lasting damage to public trust in the USDA label. There is no such thing as a hydroponic based organic farmer. Hydroponics and organic simply don't fit together. This isn't to condemn hydroponics it's simply acknowledging what OFPA clearly states and what every organic farmer I've ever known has always taken for granted, that it always starts and ends with the soil.
OPN Connect: What are some (fair/unfair) advantages hydroponic and container growers have over soil based farmers?
It’s unfair that they are using the coveted USDA organic seal on product not grown in soil. Using upwards of 90% liquids for fertility. Liquids are easy and to allow the USDA organic seal to get affixed to product grown with liquid nutrients is a very alluring prospect to those interested in gaining access to the lucrative US organic market, something they are unable to do in other countries. The premium enjoyed by certified organic farmers has been hard earned by a soil based organic system that is difficult to do. This is why after 30+ years this premium has remained and why there is more demand than supply because you just can't substitute one input for another to be truly organic, you need a completely different production system that is costly and fraught with risk. But it is a truly different system of production than conventional Ag offers. One the public has come to trust. Hydroponics blurs that line to the point of making organics irrelevant and the public unsure of what it is they are actually buying. They also can convert a facility from conventional to organic I'm guessing in weeks or a few months whereas true organic growers, those that are soil based, need to commit to a 3 year transition between conventional and organic production practices to gain access to the USDA organic seal.
OPN Connect: Would a ponic-organic specific label present a solution in the marketplace?
A hydro-organic label will wrongly embrace hydroponics as legitimate partners in the organic movement, but in reality, they are not. Hydroponics is based on an entirely different way of growing. Without a doubt, hydro is very productive and efficient. So is much of conventional agriculture. The whole reason that certification was created was to ensure that consumers who cared could find food that was grown in a different way. It was to protect both the eater and the farmer. Certifying hydro as organic does neither. It embraces hydro as organic, giving away the meaning of organic forever. This is not just a "brand" issue. This is a struggle to retain the meaning and integrity of organic.