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Archi-ponics with Colin & Karen: USDA Threatens Hydroponic Farmers & Small Business Featured

Hydroponic farmers grow certified organic produce, but the USDA threatens to change that. Hydroponic farmers grow certified organic produce, but the USDA threatens to change that.

There are so many benefits that hydroponics brings to crop producers. Hydroponics enables us to grow in nearly any environment - we can convert warehouses, parking lots, roof tops, and other spaces into vital, lush gardens. Hydroponics limits the amount of labor needed to produce a crop compared to conventional agriculture, requires less than 90% less water, and there’s at least 70% less threat from pest and diseases. Because of the increase in growth rate and vigor, hydroponics provides the grower more profit, so there’s a greater chance of success. Another big positive is that under-served communities can get involved in sustainable crop production through hydroponics, and prosper.

Imagine the creation of inner city agribusinesses across the country that offer access to good produce as well as participation in the organic, locally grown food industry, which has enjoyed more than 10% annual growth over the past several years.

If we were driving through Detroit, or South Central L.A. or Queens, and we wanted to find nutritious food and the people providing that food, we might have trouble. However, if we wanted fast food or alcohol, there is an abundance of retailers in these communities offering those products. It’s true that high-end grocers and restaurants with healthy food favor more affluent communities and generally overlook the lower to middle class. It’s not any fault of those businesses; it’s a matter of economics. We may never see high-end retailers moving into low-income neighborhoods, but thanks to hydroponics, we can envision a big, healthy wave of soil-less crop production. Imagine the creation of inner city agribusinesses across the country that offer access to good produce as well as participation in the organic, locally grown food industry, which has enjoyed more than 10% annual growth over the past several years.

That great potential is under threat from the misinformed and (perhaps) lobby-influenced regulators at the USDA who may decide to eliminate hydroponics from the National Organic Program (NOP). (Source: National Organic Standards Board meeting notes, Page #4.)

Our farm, Archi’s Acres, uses Nutrient Film Technique hydroponic systems fed by the compost tea we produce on site. We are certified organic by the California Organic Certification Trade Association (CCOF), who sets even higher standards than those set forth by the NOP. But here’s the problem. The USDA created the NOP, which in turn accredits an agency like CCOF to certify producers like us, and entitles us to use USDA Organic labeling. However if the USDA decides to exclude hydroponics from organics, CCOF cannot certify us, even though the CCOF holds us to higher standards than those set forth by the USDA for the NOP. Make sense? Not to me, either.

If the USDA moves forward with eliminating hydroponics from the NOP, it will cripple our organic produce business at Archi’s Acres. The social repercussions are huge. If new organic growers are limited to growing in soil, they will need to purchase or lease farm land, and for three years, wait for the soil to degrade any residues from synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. They will need to be able to store and transport that product from a rural area to the retailer. As a consequence, low-income, urban-dwelling future farmers will not be able to enter the organic industry. Only food growers with money and land will have a chance of being certified. And the under-served remain the under-served.

ALL of us in the hydroponic production business need to ensure that the USDA doesn’t dictate which methods of crop production are considered organic. The agency should only regulate which inputs (fertilizers and pesticides and so on) are used to feed and maintain the crop. Let’s contact the USDA through Melissa Bailey, who is the Branch Chief, Standards Branch, NOP. Email Melissa.Bailey@ams.usda.gov and inform her (politely) that the USDA is really not in touch with all the ways organic hydroponics provides great value to the agriculture industry and the people of this country. Stay tuned.

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If the USDA cripples organic hydroponics growers, programs like the ones at Archi’s Acres will be jeopardized.
Last modified on Thursday, 23 August 2012 14:46

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