Federal Regulations Suppress Organic Innovation In Order to Protect Incumbents

(p. A1) If a fruit or vegetable isn’t grown in dirt, can it be organic?
That is the question roiling the world of organic farming, and the answer could redefine what it means to farm organically.
At issue is whether produce that relies solely on irrigation to deliver nutrients to plants — through what is known as hydroponic and aquaponic systems — can be certified organic. And the National Organic Standards Board, an advisory group that makes recommendations to the federal secretary of agriculture, will get an earful on the topic at its meeting in St. Louis this week.
On one side are the growing number of big and small growers raising fruits and vegetables in these soil-free systems. They say their production methods are no different from those of farmers who grow plants in dirt — and, they add, they make organic farming more sustainable by, for instance, reducing water use.
“Soil to me as a farmer means a nutrient-rich medium that contains biological processes, and that doesn’t have to be dirt,” said Marianne Cufone, an aquaponic farmer and the executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition, which lobbies for aquaculture.
. . .
(p. B2 [sic]) The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 states: “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.”
“To me, it seems simple and always has been,” said Sam Welsch, chief executive of OneCert, an organic certification business in Nebraska that has refused to certify hydroponic produce. “There are things the law and regulations require you to do to the soil that you cannot do in a hydroponic system.”
. . .
Colin Archipley’s farm, Archi’s Acres, grows kale, herbs and other produce hydroponically in greenhouses in San Diego. He is frustrated that there is even a debate over whether his produce is organic.
“The reason this has become such a big deal is that systems like ours are becoming more popular because they’re more efficient, which means farmers are more sustainable and profitable,” he said. “That’s put competition on farmers, specifically in Vermont, and so what this really is about is market protection.”

For the full story, see:
STEPHANIE STROM. “Is It Organic? Ground Rules May Be Changing.” The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 16, 2016): A1 & B2 [sic].
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 15, 2016, and has the title “What’s Organic? A Debate Over Dirt May Boil Down to Turf.”)

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