Organic Agriculture is Soil-Based: Position Statement
Soil-based certification organizations have aligned and organized over soil as the fundamental principle of organic crop production.
When certifiers have refused to certify hydroponic crops on the grounds that they don’t comply with OFPA and the regulations, the NOP issued them noncompliance and encouraged those certifiers to resolve the noncompliance by stating instead that they won’t certify hydroponics because ‘they don’t have the expertise to certify hydroponics.’ Certifiers have the expertise to certify organic crops that comply with OFPA and the regulations, and we must all stand up to the USDA’s increasing pressure to abandon the regulations and the fundamental principle that organic production is a soil-based activity.
The below position statement is the product of years of careful consideration and reflects input from farmers and consumers around the country.
“An organic plan shall contain provisions designed to foster soil fertility, primarily through the management of the organic content of the soil through proper tillage, crop rotation, and manuring.
At the heart of organics is an interconnectivity of living ecosystems. Organic crop production depends on ecological processes, local cycles, and biodiversity. As such, organic farming systems are, quite literally, rooted in soil.
“The USDA organic regulations describe organic agriculture as the application of a set of cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. These include maintaining or enhancing soil and water quality; conserving wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife; and avoiding use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering.”
USDA National Organic Program Agricultural Marketing Service (emphasis added)
The organic philosophy is centered around healthy soils for a reason. Climate and health benefits come from fertile soils. When soil health is prioritized, there isn’t a need for pesticides and fertilizers. Healthy soils curb erosion, improve nutrient cycling, sequester carbon and nitrogen, maximize water infiltration, support biodiversity, and improve the resiliency of land.
Not Following the Public Process, Not Following the Law
Just like soil is foundational to organics, good process is foundational to democracy. That’s where the USDA went astray. The National Organic Program—by not acting on previous NOSB recommendations—tacitly allowed the certification of hydroponic systems. The NOP also unceremoniously removed the associated agenda item from the work plan for the last five years—doing a disservice to itself and its stakeholders.
The inclusion of hydroponics in organic crop certification allows producers to bypass the fundamental basis of the organic food movement: soil. This practice enables large, corporate interests to capitalize on organic premiums at the cost of consumers. And when it does so, it leaves organic, soil-based farmers in the dust.
The Importance of Soil: As Told By OEFFA Farmers
Feeding the soil, not the plant, is fundamental to the movement, according to organic farmer Jim Riddle. His guest blog highlights how hydroponics doesn’t comply with the requirements of the National Organic Regulations (7 CFR 205) and the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), and what we can do to protect organic farming.
Angela Schriver, an organic grain farmer in Grafton, Ohio, shared her thoughts on hydroponics with the NOSB during their comment period (April 18-20, 2023). She was kind enough to share her handwritten notes for us to transcribe!
Organic farmer and OEFFA Soil Health Ambassador, Matt Herbruck, shared the benefits of his soil health practices—and why they’re necessary amidst the climate crisis—in an opinion piece for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.