In Case You Missed It: NOSB Web Conference Provides Little Clarity on Hydroponics Decision


By Melody Meyer

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) held a first of its kind conference call on Monday August 14th where the crops committee discussed their draft proposals on organic production in containers, hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics. This full board discussion was intended to help shape what the Crops Subcommittee proposes for the NOSB meeting this fall in Jacksonville, Florida. 

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The entire board was on the call to help the Crops Subcommittee make a fully informed decision with all members weighing in. Although no voting occurred but there was a hearty round of discussion between the board members.

The draft proposals presented by the Crops Subcommittee were grouped in four areas:

Aeroponics – A proposed motion to prohibit these systems in organic production

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Hydroponics- A proposed motion to prohibit these systems as certified organic reverting back to the 2010 definition of hydroponics: (The production of normally terrestrial, vascular plants in nutrient rich solutions or in an inert, porous, solid matrix bathed in nutrient rich solutions.)  

Aquaponics- A proposed motion to prohibit aquaponics in organic production.

Container Production- A proposed motion to allow container growing in organic production with the following limitations:

  • A 20 percent maximum of nitrogen delivered to the plant in a liquid form
  • Limits would reset each year for perennial crops in containers
  • At least 50 percent of the nitrogen needs of the plant should be in the initial potting mix
  • At least 50 percent of the potting mix must be soil or compost
  • Exemptions would be created for transplants, herbs and other certain other plants.
Ippolito / Queen Victoria

The last proposal was put forward as a compromise by the “soils only” contingent with the acknowledgment that no one would be happy with the requirements.

Theojary Crisantes, VP of Operations at Wholesum Harvest indicated that “I don’t think the "compromise" works for container production, it is too prescriptive in the use of compost and the requirement of liquid fertility and it does not allow for grower innovation.

He added “I was hoping that the Crops Subcommittee would use the 2010 recommendation and continue to build from there to clarify to NOP the points that needed clarification on but instead they continue to discard that work and want to create a whole new recommendation.”

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Dave Chapman, the owner/grower at Long Wind Farm, offered "I thought that the Crops Subcommittee's proposal to prohibit hydroponics and permit container growing (if it is really based on the fertility of the soil in the containers rather than on added inputs) was promising. Their proposal was in strong alignment with the 2010 NOSB Recommendation. It was discouraging to hear some of the NOSB members being so disconnected with the foundational principles of organic farming."

Members of the NOSB expressed varying degrees of opinion on all the areas of concern. Some expressed the conviction that all organic production must occur in the outer crust of the earth. These members were not interested in developing additional standards if the motion to prohibit these growing methods failed. They felt that the compromise in container production was enough to push the envelope in organic.

Other members took a broader approach not wanting to shut the door on innovations in organic production. This group would like to include various methods in organic production as long as they are consistent with organic principles. They called for more research and work on developing specific standards for the various production methods.

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Some members of the Crops Subcommittee indicated that they will be presenting a minority view or alternative proposal for review by the full Crops Subcommittee in time for the fall meeting.

Based on the two hour discussion it did not appear that any of the draft proposals (as written) could achieve a super majority (10 votes) to pass a full board recommendation. The National Organic Program will not make any changes to the organic regulation without a super majority vote in favor of a proposal.

With a lack of consensus expressed by the full board on these important topics it is unclear what proposals will be presented at the NOSB meeting this fall. Based on the discussion the Crops Subcommittee has work to do in order to refine their formal proposals at least 45 days before the NOSB meeting. Look for the NOP to publish them in mid-September for further public comment.

In the meantime stakeholders are encouraged to submit comments if you have information that could be helpful for the NOSB.  Additional information about how to submit written comments, how to register to present oral comments and details about the Fall meeting can be found at the Fall 2017 NOSB Meeting webpage. 

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