Can a Soil-less Growing System be “Organic”?

Organic Agriculture and Hydroponics
Can a Soil-less Growing System be “Organic”?

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A few years ago, the organic community was shocked to find out that the USDA’s National Organic Program was allowing the certification of hydroponic operations despite the law — the law clearly states that nurturing the fertility of the soil is an integral part of organic management.

Unlabeled, it is impossible for organic consumers to tell what fruits and vegetables are grown in nutrient-rich soil (impacting flavor and our health) and which are being imported from countries like Canada, Mexico and Holland — where the produce cannot be legally labeled “organic” in those countries!

Much of the hydroponic or “container” grown fruits and vegetables are produced inside sealed giant, warehouse-sized buildings under artificial lighting — with liquid fertilizer that could come from a myriad of different waste products or even highly processed GMO soybeans.

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) met November 16-18 and voted to send hydroponics back to subcommittee, maintaining the status quo of hydroponic operations continuing to be certified. We will address this again at the spring NOSB meeting. Please print out, sign and mail your proxy letter to us so we can hand deliver your message, along with those of other farmers and eaters, to NOSB members then!

Hydroponic Pepper Operation
(c) Dario Sabljak/Adobe Stock

It is incumbent upon the current NOSB and USDA officials respect past NOSB recommendations banning hydroponics — keeping USDA standards consistent with international rules that prohibit soilless vegetable production as certified organic.

You can make a positive impact today when you print, sign, and mail back the proxy asking the NOSB to stop certifying hydroponic and aquaponic operations.

Take Action:

  • Print, sign, and return the proxy asking the NOSB to stop certifying soil-less systems

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Additional Resources:


In a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack last spring, organic farmers formally requested an immediate moratorium be declared on the organic certification of all new hydroponic and aquaponics operations. The USDA has failed to do so.

See a rally below at a previous NOSB meeting where farmers demand to keep soil in organics.

These farmers also have a petition you can sign at Keep the Soil in Organic.