“Everyone Deserves Organics”: Aquaponics Is USDA Organic!

After much debate, the USDA has decided that hydroponic and aquaponic farms could remain eligible for the USDA Organic certification – phew!

Harvesting greens from our indoor aquaponics farm.
Kieran begins harvesting greens from our controlled environment agriculture (CEA) aquaponics system.

After almost 7 years of overall uncertainty on whether hydroponic and aquaponic farming, both “soilless” methods, deserved to be eligible for USDA Organic certification, the National Organic Safety Board (NOSB) and the USDA finally came to the conclusion that both farming methods could remain eligible after all. The debate arose in 2010 when the NOSB voted to exclude “soilless” forms of growing from organic certification, so this has been a long time coming (and celebrated outcome) for the aquaponics community.

The dialogue over whether hydroponic and aquaponic farming could remain eligible for organic certification has been a heated one, to say the least. “Objectors to including hydroponics (and aquaponics) in the organic certification argue that the standard was created to maintain the health of the soil, which is harmed by conventional pesticides,” Emma Cosgrove of AgFunderNews recounts. “They feel that soilless growing systems are incompatible with this purpose and should therefore be disqualified from the certification.”

As you can imagine, controlled environment agriculture (CEA) growers and indoor farmers had quite a different outlook on the situation. And if you’ve read our blog before, you can imagine that we as a team feel strongly about the matter as well.

Aquaponic farming may not use soil, and may utilize different practices than traditional field farming, but our goals remain the same. We remove the need for any chemicals by using Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which helps us avoid using pesticides of any kind, including organically approved ones. We also use our technology to conserve water and grow the healthiest produce that we can, so in a way, you could almost consider our methods to be above and beyond organic standards, and even closer to the goal of maintaining plant health overall.

As Irving Fain, the CEO of Bowery Farming states, “The NOSB’s previous definition of organic was written at a time when the technology that is available today simply did not exist, so it is appropriate to recognize that today’s produce does not have to be grown in a field to meet the highest quality standards.”

All in all, this is a big day for us here in the aquaponics community. Being eligible to be certified organic means that we can impact the lives of even more individuals, and get even closer to our goal of creating a food secure world for all.

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