Hydroponic “Organic” is Illegal
Use of the word “organic” on products that do not comply with the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and the National Organic Program Final Rule (NOP) is illegal. The NOSB recommended against “hydroponic” products being labeled a “organic” on numerous occasions. Neither OFPA nor the NOP have been amended to allow for the products of soilless production systems being labeled as organic. Federal organic hydroponic standards have not been issued, following notice and comment rulemaking.
Companies who make “organic” claims on products produced using soilless systems should be ordered to remove the word “organic” from their products, or face prosecution for violating OFPA, since they are committing fraud. Certifying agents who certify soilless production systems as “organic” should be ordered to discontinue such activities or face loss of USDA accreditation.
As the legal basis for this position, one needs to look no further than the plain language of OFPA and the NOP Final Rule.
OFPA Section 6513 “Organic Plan” states:
“(b)(1) Soil Fertility. An organic plan shall contain provisions designed to foster soil fertility, primarily through the management of the organic content of the soil through proper tillage, crop rotation, and manuring.
(g) Limitation on Content of Plan. An organic plan shall not include any production or handling practices that are inconsistent with this chapter.”
Soilless production systems do not foster soil fertility or build soil organic matter content, as required by OFPA. Organic plans for soilless operations, by definition, include production practices that are inconsistent with OFPA since they are based solely on input use instead of implementing an soil fertility program that builds soil organic matter.
The NOP Final Rule, Section 205.200 “General” states:
“The producer or handler of a production or handling operation intending to sell, label, or represent agricultural products as “100 percent organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s))” must comply with the applicable provisions of this subpart. Production practices implemented in accordance with this subpart must maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality.”
Soilless production systems do not comply with NOP 205.200, since they do not maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation including soil quality.
The NOP Final Rule, Section 205.203 “Soil fertility and crop nutrient management” states:
“(a) The producer must select and implement tillage and cultivation practices that maintain or improve the physical, chemical, and biological condition of soil and minimize soil erosion.
(b) The producer must manage crop nutrients and soil fertility through rotations, cover crops, and the application of plant and animal materials.
(c) The producer must manage plant and animal materials to maintain or improve soil organic matter content”
Soilless production systems do not comply with NOP 205.203(a-c) because tillage and cultivation practices do not maintain or improve the physical, chemical or biological condition of soil. Soilless operations do not manage fertility through the use of crop rotations or cover crops, and they do not maintain or improve soil organic matter content.
The NOP Final Rule, 205.205 “Crop rotation” states:
“The producer must implement a crop rotation including but not limited to sod, cover crops, green manure crops, and catch crops that provide the following functions that are applicable to the operation:
(a) Maintain or improve soil organic matter content;
(b) Provide for pest management in annual and perennial crops;
(c) Manage deficient or excess plant nutrients; and
(d) Provide erosion control.”
Soilless production systems do not comply with NOP 205.205, because they do not implement crop rotations to maintain or improve soil organic matter content; provide pest management; manage deficient or excess plant nutrients; or provide erosion control. Soilless systems do not comply with the crop rotation requirement, which is a cornerstone of organic production.
Finally, soilless production systems do not comply with the NOP Section 205.2 definition of “organic production” because they do not “promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity” as required by law.
Blue Fruit Farm
Former Chair, NOSB