Cornucopia reached out to Dr. Jennifer Tucker, the National Organic Program (NOP) Deputy Administrator, for further comment on the issues raised by Civil Eats, below.
Dr. Jennifer Tucker
Tucker stated that she did not feel the context was illustrated well in the article. Her quotes came out of a discussion surrounding hydroponic operations being erected on rooftops or in already established buildings, not greenhouses erected on land. She emphasized to Cornucopia that it was not a blanket statement about NOP policy or an interpretation of the rules as they stand.
Massive hydroponic operations continue to be erected on top of soil. This has a profound effect on the soil integrity, whether or not prohibited substances like glyphosate are applied to the ground beneath. Good soil health has far-reaching benefits, including carbon sequestration, preventing pollution run-off, and water and nutrient storage.
Tucker did note that she shared some of the concerns of organic stakeholders about prohibited substances being applied to the land, but she did not clarify how this rule will be enforced if the three-year transition period is discarded.
The NOP has drafted an official policy statement regarding these concerns that is currently in review. Tucker stated that she does not have a timeline for this official policy’s date of release but made assurances that it is a high priority. There are no current plans to develop standards specific to organic hydroponic production.
Cornucopia does not support the organic certification of hydroponic operations. Although hydroponic production does have practical application under specific circumstances, we do not believe it should qualify as organic production. It is a system based entirely on inputs; without soil, no stewardship is possible. Proponents of “organic” hydroponic production generally fail to account for the externalized costs of plastic tubing, plastic containers, plastic ground cover, and required infrastructure.
Can Hydroponic Farmers Spray Glyphosate Just Before Becoming Organic?
by Gosia Wozniacka
The latest salvo in the battle between traditional organic farmers—who grow in nutrient-rich soil—and soil-free hydroponic operators centers on a prohibited weed-fighting chemical.
Soil farmers say the National Organic Program (NOP) allows the use of herbicides such as glyphosate, the active ingredient in Bayer’s Roundup, in hydroponic operations just before they are certified organic. The federal agency denies that’s the case, and says the issue of hydroponic certification has been settled for good.
The reports come amid an increased interest in organic hydroponics, as low commodity prices and cheap produce imports from Mexico and elsewhere are pushing hydroponic growers to seek out organic certification. Hydroponic systems rely on supplying nutrients to the plants through a liquid feed. While some grow produce suspended in water, many use substrate such as coconut husk; all use container or greenhouse production systems.
An Organic Loophole?
Organic hydroponics has long been a controversial growing system. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has said hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic operations have been eligible for organic certification since the NOP began in 1990. But the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)—a group of farmers, environmentalists, and industry representatives who advise the USDA on organic standards—has reversed course on the issue several times under pressure from traditional soil-based farmers. In November 2017, the NOSB failed to pass a recommendation to prohibit hydroponic farms from being certified organic.
Though the lack of a ban opened the gates to more operations seeking certification, it didn’t stop the opposition, who believe that healthy soil, managed in a holistic fashion, should be the basis of organic farming. Earlier this month, the Real Organic Project, a coalition of farmers and advocates committed to soil-based farming and other strict organic principles, reported that some large hydroponic operations, especially in the berry industry, are being built on land that was recently sprayed with herbicide, including glyphosate. Dave Chapman, a Vermont organic tomato farmer and the group’s executive director, said he received reports from farmers in California and Florida regarding the spraying.