USDA to decide whether hydroponic farming counts as organic

The USDA released a report July 21 submitted to the Agricultural Marketing Service National Organics Standard Board regarding whether or not products cultivated via hydroponic or aquaponic farming qualify as organic.

The report consists of write-ups from two subcommittees arguing for and against the adoption of aquaponic and hydroponic farming as organic. The Agricultural Marketing Service, under the USDA, will use the report to alter or maintain its regulations.

According to the National Organics Standards Board Hydroponic and Aquaponic Task Force, both hydroponic and aquaponic farming should not qualify as organic because they do not improve soil quality, which is a mainstay of organic farming.

As per definitions within the report, hydroponic production refers to the growing of plants in mineral nutrient solutions with or without an inert growing media to provide mechanical support. Aquaponic farming refers to a system in which wastes produced from fish supply nutrients for plant materials, and the fish’s water is used for irrigation.

Their report states organic farming uses living matter to enrich soil, unlike hydroponic and aquaponic farming.

“Observing that the framework of organic farming is based on its foundation of sound management of soil biology and ecology, it became clear to the NOSB that systems of crop production that eliminate soil from the system, such as hydroponics, cannot be considered as acceptable organic farming practices,” the report states.

However, the Hydroponic and Aquaponic Subcommittee Report concedes that while certain types of hydroponic and aquaponic farming practices should not qualify as organic, one derivative method, bioponic farming, should.

The report defines bioponic farming as a growing method that relies entirely on natural inputs from animals, plants and minerals, and requires biological processes to convert the inputs into a usable form for plants.

“There are other container growing systems that may resemble traditional hydroponic systems, but are fundamentally and completely different,” the report states. “Such systems require and contain rich, diverse and complete soil-plant ecology that symbiotically work with plants to biologically process animal, plant and mineral inputs. This subcommittee has termed such ‘organic hydroponic’ practice as ‘bioponic.'”

The report continues, stating that bioponic farming satisfies many of the goals of organic farming in that it uses 80 percent less water than field grown crops because no water is lost to evaporation, runoff or leaching. Likewise, it reduces food safety risks and environmental impacts of agriculture.

The report does not say when the board will make a final decision. To view the report in its entirety, go to http://tiny.cc/jn67cy.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com