Troubling Waters: How the USDA and Hydroponic Agribusiness Diluted Organics by Sanctioning Soil-less Growing

A report and buyer’s guide profiling illicit produce brands grown in liquid fertilizer rather than nutrient-rich soils

Hydroponic Buyer’s Guide
Full Report
Executive Summary
Press Release

The Cornucopia Institute’s report, Troubling Waters: How the USDA and Hydroponic Agribusiness Diluted Organics by Sanctioning Soil-less Growing provides consumers and wholesale buyers with the information they need to identify hydroponic brands in the marketplace and instead purchase truly organic produce from farmers who grow crops in fertile soil in the ground.

The mantra of true organic farmers has historically been, “Feed the soil not the plants.” This results in nutrient-dense and flavorful food. Growing in inert medium and fed by liquid fertilizers, is anathema to the foundational philosophies of organic farming.

The economic survival of authentic organic farmers depends on the enforcement of organic law which requires careful stewardship of soil fertility.  And good soil health has far-reaching benefits, including carbon sequestration and preventing pollution run-off into watersheds.

In contrast, many “organic” hydroponic producers erect massive intensive greenhouses to grow crops in water or inert planting media like conventional coco coir or peat moss mined from bogs. The plants are fed a liquid fertilizer solution that may be derived from hydrolyzed conventionally grown soybeans, unsustainable wild-caught fish, or even composted waste from grocery stores.

Right now, “organic” produce where you shop may be hydroponically grown—but there is no legal requirement for hydroponic produce to be labeled as such.

You can use the accompanying Hydroponic Buyer’s Guide to learn which brands sell produce grown using hydroponic methods.

Please ask your local retailer to use this guide to implement signage identifying fruits and vegetables produced with hydroponic practices so that consumers can differentiate them from nutrient-dense organic produce grown in the soil.

Although we initially list 57 brands, including many of the largest nationally distributed ones, The Cornucopia Institute acknowledges our guide is less than complete because there is limited transparency among certifiers and agribusiness giants. We will continue to add brands as we become aware of them.

You can read more about imported “organic” hydroponics on our website: Can a Soil-less Growing System be “Organic”?