By Tawnya Sawyer
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) had their Spring 2017 meeting in April at the Denver Sheraton Conference Center (coincidently the same venue as the 2012 Aquaponic Association conference.) The panel of 16 board members had a lengthy agenda reviewing a variety of substances, different livestock management practices and a host of other important topics. Of major interest to our industry was the discussion related to the future of organic certification for hydroponics/aeroponics/aquaponics and greenhouse container growing.
The meeting ended with an agreement that the discussion would be officially continued to the Fall 2017 Meeting scheduled for November in Florida.
About a hundred people were in attendance to hear the various discussions. Public comments were allowed on the second day of the meeting in three minute pre-scheduled increments. Sascha Bollag from the Recirculating Farms Collation and Michael Hasey from The Farming Fish in Oregon (a certified aquaponic and soil farm) were able to speak and provide valuable insights as to the reasons that aquaponics and other soil-less growing techniques should maintain organic certification.
During the discussion portion of the meeting on day three, the board members expressed confusion, and agreed they didn’t have enough information to make a final decision. They were having a difficult time understanding many of the definitions, growing principles, sustainability and impact that including or denying the certification would create. A few members expressed that they had never seen any type of greenhouse production using these growing techniques, and that they felt it would be valuable to visit an indoor production facility to better understand soil-less growing methods. They also discussed that the techniques are different enough that trying to put them into the same “category” may prove too difficult, as was the suggestion that an alternate labeling method be considered.
Luckily, when the meeting adjourned, I was able to invite the board to visit Flourish Farms, our 3,000 sq ft aquaponic farm located at the GrowHaus in a Northwest Denver food desert community. I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to speak openly for almost 2 hours helping the board members better understand aquaponics and hydroponics since both growing methods are demonstrated at the GrowHaus.
Overall, there was recognition that trying to combine these methods into one group, and trying to apply soil guidelines may be creating more challenges than can easily be overcome. These are different growing methods and some should be certified and some clearly should not (such as synthetic hydroponics). It was very rewarding to be able to exchange ideas and help inform the discussion. I encourage other farmers to reach out to the board and offer opportunities to visit your farms as this can have a positive impact on the future designation of organic aquaponic certification.
In 2015 an NOSB Task Force was created to review hydroponics/aeroponics/aquaponics and greenhouse container production. Some of the challenges identified are related to building soil fertility, liquid fertilizers, raw manure, use of plastics, and sustainability if power were to fail. Many of these considerations have been addressed in the document Aquaponic Systems Utilize the Soil Food Web to Grow Healthy Crops, which has been presented to the NOSB for their review. Additional positions by the Recirculating Farms Coalition and the Aquaponics Association were also printed and submitted for the board’s review.