It was typical spring weather in the Mile High City for the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) spring meeting last week. A day of piercing sunshine was followed by wind and sputtering rain that cascaded off the Rockies. The unsettled climate mirrored the tone of this biannual meeting. While the lion’s share of this meeting was set aside for discussion, it provided a glimpse of the boards’ predilections on future recommendations.
The NOSB is a Federal Advisory Board made up of 15 dedicated public volunteers from across the organic community. Originally established by the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), and governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), the NOSB considers and makes recommendations on a wide range of issues involving the production, handling, and processing of organic products.
Public Comment is Critical to the Process
Public comments are the main reason for these meetings and the subterranean ballroom was packed with impassioned stakeholders eager to speak. The question of whether organic bioponics: container grown, hydroponic and aquaponic and aeroponic production could remain certified organic was the most widely discussed topic. Approximately 80 percent of the 12 hours of public comments were around this subject----- either being for or against allowing them to be certified.
The Arguments against Bioponic Certification:
Members of the organic community that were opposed posited that the original intent of OFPA is a soil based standard. One commenter adamantly proclaimed that feeding plants with liquid nutrients is a gross betrayal of the organic movement.
The absence or very low levels of soil does not provide the majority of nutrients to the plants. Most of the nutrients are provided by an enriched water solution, not from biological processes in the soil.
The growing medium in these systems is often peat moss which is a finite resource potentially extracted from environmentally sensitive areas of the world. These systems represent an artificial environment where plants could not survive on their own. Eliminating the competition coming from these systems will potentially help small farms to benefit from higher prices based on restricted supplies.
The Arguments in Favor of Bioponic Certification:
Speaking in favor were the many producers that have been certified for years, building vigorous businesses supplying consumers with an increasing supply of organic food. Sales of organic cucumber, tomatoes and peppers are growing at 16 percent year over year and 30-40 percent of all these come from greenhouse production – many bioponically grown.
Organic bioponic production is dependent on a delicate balance of biological activity. All organic systems share microbiology – be they in soil or containers – and they are all are appropriate organic methods depending on the growing conditions specific to that site.
Soil-based organic production requires substantial seasonal inputs of nutrients to successfully produce a crop, usually delivered through water. Bioponics produced year round in greenhouses potentially lower shipping costs providing more local organic food to consumers.
Lastly the sentiment that the inclusion of these systems is important to the future of innovation in organic, it can contribute to local food systems in urban areas. Proponents urged the NOSB to define biodiversity on a broader expanded context that incorporates many aspects of the growing systems.
The Board Weighed in with Conflicted Trepidation
In the final hours of the meeting members of the Crops Subcommittee who wrote the discussion document that called for eliminating these systems presented the basis for their document and invited feedback from all board members individually. The entire NOSB vowed to work together to reach a friendly consensus on this contentious issue.
Going forward the board will work on proposals to define each of the bioponic systems: hydroponic, aeroponic, aquaponic and container growing. Definitions and proposals will be forthcoming perhaps as early as the fall meeting.
For growers who use these methods the NOSB specifically requested more information on:
- The quantity and diversity of biology in various productions systems.
- The composition of substrates used in container systems.
- The types of fertility sources used.
- The market volume and/or market share for product grown in containers.
The next meeting will be held Tuesday, October 31, 2017 - 8:30 am to Thursday, November 2, 2017 - 5:00 pm at the Omni Jacksonville Hotel, in Jacksonville Florida. Find out more here on how you can participate.