OPN Connect Newsletter 129 · August 22, 2019

National Organic Program Clarifies Organic Container Production

The Real Organic Project took a victory lap earlier this summer when the USDA clarified that glyphosate and other prohibited substances are not allowed for use in container operations.  The organization has been a long-standing advocate to prohibit hydroponics in organic production.

Jennifer Tucker, deputy administrator, NOP

Cal Organic May 2024

Jenny Tucker, deputy administrator of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP), issued a memo clarifying the use of prohibited substances in container systems. The NOP confirmed that the term “container system” includes container, hydroponic, and other plant pot-based systems, with or without soil as the growing media.

The memo stressed that certifiers and operations must meet the requirements of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990.   “To be sold or labeled as an organically produced agricultural product it must have been produced and handled without the use of synthetic chemicals three years immediately preceding the harvest of the agricultural products,” the memo stated. 

Further, the memo added, “if a container operation wants to construct a container system on a plot of land and they must provide evidence that no prohibited substance has been applied within three years before the expected harvest. Then the land can be eligible for organic production.”

The declaration by NOP firmly states that once the land is certified, certifiers must assess container systems for ongoing compliance with the USDA organic regulations. No prohibited substances may be applied anywhere in the system, including on the land underlying the system, or in the system itself.

Earthbound Farms May 2024

Dave Chapman, farmer and executive director, Real Organic Project

Dave Chapman, farmer and Executive Director of the Real Organic Project said, "The memo that the NOP released was a step towards integrity. Unfortunately, it failed to address whether the three-year transition is required for hydroponic production in greenhouses. This is not a hypothetical. We see largescale conventional hydro greenhouses converting to organic within weeks of "bombing" the house with prohibited pesticides. The NOP refuses to respond to certifiers' requests for clarification.”

The NOP memo summarized the rules that accredited certifiers must follow when determining the eligibility and compliance of container systems for organic crop certification.

Driscolls May 2024

Certifiers must also evaluate the compliance of the overall system, including maintaining or improving natural resources, supporting nutrient cycling, promoting ecological balance, and conserving biodiversity.

The memo applies to all new container systems that have not yet been certified under the NOP. All currently certified container system operations retain their certification if they maintain compliance with the regulations.


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“Growing conditions are different from New England to New Mexico and Ohio to Hawaii.  Farmers are great problem-solvers and every farm is different. There’s room in the USDA organic regulations to support the kind of innovation that makes it possible to grow organically in a wide range of unique circumstances, while staying true to the common set of rules,” NOP’s Tucker said.  “This diversity within a well-established community is a big part of what makes organic farming so appealing to many farmers and consumers across our nation.”

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