Organic is in the Soil

In September 2017, NFFC submitted the following comments to USDA written by Jim Goodman, an organic dairy and beef farmer from WI and member of Family Farm Defenders. Unfortunately, USDA’s National Organic Standards Board did not heed the comments and concerns offered by Jim and other organic farmers, and voted on November 2 to allow hydroponically grown produce to receive organic certification.

‘To me, as long as I have known anything about organic, it was healthy soil, healthy crops, healthy animals, healthy people. So, it all starts with the soil, and if there is no soil involved, seems to me it has stepped out of the organic sphere.

The USDA website notes that “USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible”.

Interesting that soil quality is the first factor mentioned, and for good reason. The nutrient cycle, or in current terminology regenerative agriculture, has always been a cornerstone of organic farming – agriculture whereby the soil is managed to increase its fertility, reducing or eliminating the need for outside fertility inputs. Hydroponic agriculture is the exact opposite of regenerative agriculture in that all fertility inputs need to be added to the system. Organic farmers strive for a self-renewing system, as they are and should be, required by USDA organic regulations. With hydroponics a self-renewing system is impossible.

On principal, I am not opposed to hydroponics, as I am not opposed to sustainable farming practices – those practices utilized by good farmers who do the right thing but do not ascribe to all the organic rules – and that’s OK.

Hydroponic tomatoes grown in the northern winter are, in some ways better than shipping “organic” tomatoes in from Mexico, but hydroponic production systems, by their nature, are not organic. Since they depend solely on added inputs I would question if they even fall into the realm of sustainable agriculture.

Hydroponics may produce acceptable vegetables, but, sorry, organic is about the soil. Don’t try to take that away from us, who, as farmers, have spent our lives trying to save and improve the soil.’

National Family Farm Coalition supports Mr. Goodman’s assertion that organic is in the soil and can not be duplicated by nutrients and other additives transmitted to plants grown hydroponically. USDA organic standards should continue to require that:  “USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives.”