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Certified Organic Without Soil?

January 19, 2010

Believe it or not, you cannot be certified USDA organic if you grow crops in a soilless environment in the U.S.

Dirt = Organic…WHY???  

Bevan Suits of Access to Aquaponics has launched a righteous war of soil semantics with the National Organic Standards Board.  On December 17 he sent a letter to Valerie Francis, Executive Director, and Jeff Moyer, Chairman, which I’m excerpting below.

“My understanding is that the NOSB is leaning against allowing soil-less methods from being deemed organic, based on the assumption that the foundation of organic is in the soil. This concept is easily refuted by science. I represent a consortium of interested parties seeking to promote solid scientific discussion of this issue and show that what we call soil is just one medium to contain roots, water, air and bacteria.”

He then attached the following three letters

Michael Christian

President CEO Sun Circle Inc. dba American Hydroponics (since 1984)

Arcata, CA

Botanist/biologist, hydroponic system designer/manufacturer, studied in Australia and

New Zealand, providing grower support for 25 years to over 300 hydroponic grower clients

world-wide.

707-822-5777 x 311

1. “An atom of nitrogen is an atom of nitrogen, no matter whether it came from a pile of compost or a sack of chemical fertilizer. This a basic fact of botany, and therefore, there is no nutritional difference between a plant raised ‘organically’ and a plant that is grown ‘chemically.’ I’m right there with you ‘organic’ gardeners when it comes to farming in soil, but hydroponics is a different breed of cat entirely. So please don’t criticize hydroponics on strictly emotional grounds”

(Mother Earth News, Nov. Dec. 1977, p 97)

2. Hydroponics and aquaponics deserves a closer look… After reading “Hydroponics: Organic by design or unsustainable by nature” By Gregory House in the Feb ’04 issue Tillage Report, I was surprised at how easily the value of  hydroponic/aquaponic crop cultivation in a world with 6.3 billion people, water crises, environmental degradation etc. was so easily dismissed, and how emotionally charged and biased were his views “there is simply no romance in a hydroponic vegetable.” Interesting assessment.

3. I would hope that the NOSB would want to encourage locally grown food production, sustainability, water conservation, energy efficiency rather than focusing on defining ‘organic’ as strictly a soil phenomena and then having to ship it 1500 miles to a dinner plate. The nutritional content of food grown in a well managed hydroponic/aquaponic system is equal to and better than food grown in the best organic soils. We’ve had tissue tested from both… hydroponic and aquaponic tested higher in minerals and vitamins, very balanced. It would be a mistake to not encourage appropriate technologies for food production in the organic certification process. Aquaponics especially qualifies. Traditional hydroponics currently uses inorganic minerals, maybe not organically certifiable but nutritionally equal to or better.

Robert C. LaGasse

Executive Director

Progressive Gardening Trade Association

10210 Leatherleaf Ct.

Manassas, VA 20111

703.392.5890

o Executive Director at Mulch and Soil Research Foundation

o Executive Director at Garden Writers Association Foundation

o Executive Director at Progressive Gardening Trade Association

o Executive Director at Garden Writers Association

o Executive Director at Mulch and Soil Council

o President at Executives Consultants, Inc.

1. The basic purpose of soil is to provide support to a plant and act as a medium for the delivery of air, nutrients and water.

2. It is the organic matter in the soil, not the soil components (sand/silt/loam), that provide the nutrients to the plant; therefore, any inert material that can support a plant while allowing the delivery of water, nutrients and air, can replace the function of soil.

3. Organic nutrients are bound in a soil matrix that requires biological action to release the elemental forms of N-P-K for absorption by plant roots. Any means of providing elemental N-P-K that can be absorbed by plant roots can replace biological action.

4. Hydroponic systems use inert growing media that provide support to the plant and a delivery vehicle for water, air and nutrients.

5. Inert hydroponic media prevent the spread of soil-borne pathogens thereby negating the need for soil treatments or the use of inorganic herbicides.

6. Using water as the delivery method for elemental N-P-K speeds delivery to roots and eliminates the unpredictable nature of biological conversion concentrations.

7. Hydroponic solutions are created to deliver ALL the nutrient elements required of any plant, including trace elements that may be deficient in natural organic materials. As such, they offer the optimum plant growth environment and maximum nutrition value the plant is capable of producing naturally.

8. In every sense of the word and within the full intent of the organic philosophy, hydroponic crop production is organic.

Evan Folds

BS Biology & Religion – UNC-Wilmington

President – Progress Earth

President – Progressive Gardens

President – A Natural Approach

Anything grown with natural inputs should be allowed to market themselves “organic”, including natural hydroponics and aquaponics. Unfortunately, our intentions of creating a certification for “organic” food has already been undermined, so my hope is that we can allow as many conscious growing principles as possible to fall under this certification so that we can all have the marketability offered to those that abide by current standards, especially considering that many of those taking advantage of the certification are growing food that is inferior to methods of growth that are currently not included. Thank you.

________________________________-

Today Bevan spoke with Valerie Frances at the NOSB and learned the following:

•  They strongly believe that soil is a key element in determining if something is organic.

•  They will come out formally with this statement in mid-March, at which point it will be open to public comment.

•  She said that the organic label is for the benefit of the consumer.

•  He asked if she, as a consumer, would consider the grow medium to be a key element, or is it whether pesticides, hormones, etc. are more important.

•  She hemmed and hawed, with no good answer.

He is issuing the following challenge to all of us who love soilless gardening: Please consider what industry groups or key individuals would have an interest in helping shape this policy in favor of soil-less grow systems. Pass this blog post to them, urging that everyone respond to this via email to bsuits@comcast.net and he will consolidate them and make sure the message makes it to the board.

Together, perhaps, we can enlighten and educate the NOSB.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. buck permalink
    June 13, 2010 11:19 am

    We grow hydroponic USDA certified organic tomatoes… So it is possible to get certified organic and be hydroponic.

    • June 14, 2010 7:15 am

      Hi Buck. That’s great news! Maybe things have changed. What nutrients do you use? We’ve met, and I know that you are located somewhere in the Pueblo area but I’m wondering where I can buy your tomatoes.

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