Here’s What You Need to Know About The Organic Standard Changes
The Organic standards could soon exclude your farm from ever being certified.
You’ve probably heard about the organic standards changing. But you might not know what’s actually happening and how it impacts your farm. Whether you’re currently an organic farmer, or if you’ve had even a fleeting thought about getting certified, changing standards can impact your ability to sell and grow great food.
In this article, we’re going to discuss what’s happening in the NOSB and USDA, and why soilless farms should have the option to get certified organic.
Here’s what’s happening
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is a board of 14 people that make recommendations to the USDA regarding the organic standards – what they should be and how they should change.
Currently, the NOSB is considering a recommendation that the USDA bans hydroponic, aquaponic, aeroponic, and other container-based growing methods from the organic standards. (Currently, growers using these methods are able to receive organic certification under the USDA’s National Organic Program.)
If the USDA were to take such a recommendation, it would bar soilless farmers from ever being certified organic.
The option would be off the table – probably forever. This would put the hydroponic and aquaponic industries at a disadvantage and could even impact traditional organic farmers as well by deleting a significant portion of the organic community.
To protect the business options of farmers and future farmers, it is critical that members of the hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic community make their voices heard by the NOSB. The ultimate goal is to ensure that consumers can continue to have an ample supply of reasonably priced organic fresh produce.
How do I get involved?
There’s a lack of information regarding how hydro-, aqua-, and aeroponics work and how changed standards would impact farmers. The best way to make sure your voice is heard is to tell the NOSB how this decision will affect you and your farming business. The NOSB will take your comments into account as they prepare for a vote on October 31st.
It’s not always easy to sit down and articulate your comment, so we’ve outlined the four main issues surrounding the decision about banning growing methods. These are the primary arguments to keep organic on the table.
4 reasons to allow soilless organics
1) Soilless grown produce is robust, safe, and nutritious like consumers deserve.
The Organic label was created to signify safety, sustainability, and responsibility in food. Consumers depend on the organic label to signify that food is:
- Free of unsafe or unhealthy pesticides and fertilizers
- Resource efficient with effective cycling and recycling of inputs through the farm
- Free from harmful impacts to the air, water, and surrounding land.
- Created in humane and healthy conditions
Hydroponic and aquaponic production, like any farm, can align with these criteria.
One great example of how hydroponics and aquaponics support responsible resource use and nutritious food is the decrease in food miles. Hydroponic and aquaponic systems can be built indoors, enabling fresh produce to be grown close to the consumer all year round, eliminating hundreds or thousands of miles of transportation.
Locally grown fresh foods also provide better nutrients. The Harvard T.H. Chan Center for Public Health reports that “even when the highest post-harvest handling standards are met, foods grown far away spend significant time on the road, and therefore have more time to lose nutrients before reaching the marketplace.” (1)
When food is grown regionally or locally using indoor hydroponics and aquaponics, the consumer gets a richer nutritional profile, and the environment benefits from a shorter supply chain. The bottom line: hydroponics and aquaponics don’t block better food; they empower it.
2) Soilless growing contributes to the economy and strengthens food security
Modern farmers, empowered with appropriate tools and technology, are able to grow food in areas where fresh, local food has never been possible before. Doing so helps more people have access to nutritious food in previously unthinkable locations:
- Urban food deserts
- Northern latitudes
- Areas that lack abundant ground and surface water
This is helping a new generation of farmers in both urban and rural locations as they face difficult growing conditions and even more difficult economics. Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) allows more people to grow food and access markets. (3)
According to former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, “Urban agriculture helps strengthen the health and social fabric of communities while creating economic opportunities for farmers and neighborhoods.”
As part of the Upstart University community, you know this better than most. Your innovative spirit and commitment to your community are the beating heart of the Upstart Farmer network.
3) Soilless growing doesn’t subtract the power of sun and soil; it amplifies it.
There are numerous studies about the benefits of Organic crops grown in soil with careful attention to the biological composition of the soil. Many organic farmers will claim that since we continue to learn more about the biology in organic production systems, the potential unknown benefits of producing in soil is worth excluding hydroponic and aquaponic production methods.
Unfortunately, the anti-hydroponic activists take advantage of the fact that most members of the general public do not have a degree in microbiology. By using words like “unnatural, sterile, robo-crops,” they deliberately try to to confuse the public about the realities of hydroponic or aquaponic production methods. It is up to us to set the record straight.
Indeed, studies show that Organic aquaponic and hydroponic production relies on a robust microflora in the root zone – made of the same types and numbers of bacteria and fungi that thrive in soil.
4) Small farms need assistance getting to market.
Small and independently owned farms often struggle to beat the economics of the start up world and often rely on a second or third income stream to support their farm (6). The price premium that is associated with organic crops helps to support small, medium, and large farms, both locally and regionally.
Should growers using innovative approaches to produce organically be punished for doing something new?
The bottom line? Organic standards should adapt to new techniques instead of dismissing them.
If the goal of the Organic label is to empower more consumers with organically grown produce, then hydroponics and aquaponics have a lot to offer. It doesn’t make sense to restrict or exclude these methods from the Organic label.
However, restriction is what will happen if farmers like you don’t speak up. Luckily, speaking up is easy; the easy way to make sure your voice is heard is to make a comment to the NOSB. The NOSB will take your comments into account as they prepare for a vote on October 15th.
Here are 4 easy way to comment:
- Go to the NOSB Organic Comments page and write a message telling the NOSB that you believe your growing methods should remain organic.
- Sign up to give a three-minute testimony at the October 24 and 26 webinars.
- Sign up to attend the Fall Meeting in person and provide in-person three-minute testimony.
- Contact your federal congressional representatives and tell them you want the NOSB to retain the organic eligibility of sustainable growing methods like aquaponics, hydroponics, and aeroponics. Click here to enter your zip code and find your representatives.