Are Hydroponics Organic?  US Regulators Set to Decide

In a showdown between organic farmers and hydroponic/aquaponic farmers, US Regulators, through the National Organic Standards Board, are set to decide, over meetings that began October 31st and end today, November 2nd, on whether produce grown outside of soil can be deemed organic.

Editor Note:  Looking to a panel of government agents to legitimize or de-legitimize the label of organic is a sure sign that if you THINK you have a free market, you don’t.  Let the market decide what they will accept as “organic” and what they won’t accept as “organic.”

It seems to me that organic farmers are looking for protection from the government, rather than looking at the government and asking why it’s assuming it has some sort of right to determine what consumers should consider organic.


U.S. regulators appear poised to answer that long-debated question. And, depending on what they say, their ruling could shake up the organics business.

The National Organic Standards Board — an advisory body to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program — reserved a spot for discussion and possibly a vote on the issue at its Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 meeting in Jacksonville, Fla.

For two decades, controversy has simmered over whether soil is essential to grow organic produce. USDA-approved organic certifiers have been permitted to license hydroponic operations as organic by the National Organic Program. Some agencies have certified hydroponic operations and some haven’t.

It’s a high-stakes debate, and both sides have valid concerns, said Michael Castagnetto, vice president of global sourcing with Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Robinson Fresh.

If the NOSB recommends that hydroponics and similar should remain certifiable as organic produce, it could lead to more investment in hydroponic operations, he said.

There also might be concern that the value of organic certification could diminish and soil-based growers might reduce organic output, Castagnetto said.

Rob Verdi, president and CEO of Bella Verdi Farms, a Dripping Springs, Texas-based hydroponic grower-shipper of leafy greens, lettuces and microgreens, said his products meet the spirit, if not the letter, of organic production requirements.

“You have to go back to the genesis of the USDA organic program, which was designed to be a bit of carrot and stick for organic farming, related to Clean Water Act, to move off those pesticides that were problematic,” Verdi said.

St. Paul, Minn.-based aquaponics grower Urban Organics currently carries USDA Organic certification for its kale, cilantro and other leafy greens it ships to nearby retailers in the organics-hungry Twin Cities area.

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