Hydroponic Discussion at CCOF Board Meeting

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Written by Kelly Damewood on Monday, March 2, 2020


The CCOF Board of Directors hosted a special discussion about hydroponic and container-based systems at their quarterly board meeting on February 18. 


Over the last few years, disagreement has percolated throughout the organic community about hydroponic and container-based systems. Many organic producers feel frustrated that the National Organic Program (NOP) allows hydroponic operations to achieve certification because they believe that soil is essential to any organic production. Others feel that hydroponic systems for some types of crops and locations can be valuable parts of the organic food system. CCOF members span the spectrum of these opinions.  

CCOF is working to build a webpage that clarifies how we certify these systems and explain the background more thoroughly. We will notify our members and supporters when the webpage is ready via this newsletter. In the meantime, read answers to the FAQs we receive about hydroponic and container-based systems.

CCOF Board Discussion

Nine CCOF members representing six longtime CCOF-certified operations of various scales joined the board meeting to discuss a path forward. Seven members passionately shared their perspective on why hydroponic systems should not be allowed in organic production. In turn, two CCOF board members and growers shared their passionate perspectives on why hydroponic systems should be allowed. Overall, the dialogue was respectful and reflective of the differing opinions on organic certification and hydroponic systems. 

The CCOF members who oppose hydroponic systems had two primary calls of action for the board:

          – First, they asked the board to find a means for CCOF Certification Services, LLC (CCOF CS) to stop certifying these types of systems. 

          – Second, they called on the board to find a means for CCOF CS to require a label that distinguished hydroponic systems from in-ground systems. 

CCOF CS will not stop certifying operations that are in compliance with NOP standards, and the NOP has repeatedly clarified that these types of production systems are eligible for certification. However, the board readily agreed that we should work together on a labeling requirement that helps provide transparency. CCOF has long called for labeling and efforts to clarify standards for these unique systems. Although opinions differ widely on what labeling would look like, the discussion indicated points of convergence and opportunities to start working together on a solution to resolve the ongoing frustration and disagreement about hydroponic and container-based systems in organic certification.

Next Steps and How Members Can Voice Their Opinions

CCOF CS will not stop certifying operations that are in compliance with the NOP standards, but, with broad buy in and support from CCOF members, our organization will facilitate a labeling proposal to submit to the NOP.

CCOF CS cannot require a label that is not required by the NOP—therefore, it will take a collective effort and collaboration to achieve a hydroponic labeling requirement.

Several CCOF members have already expressed opposition to a labeling requirement and disagreement exists about what type of systems would warrant a labeling (i.e., what is hydroponic and what is not). Therefore, CCOF has many more tough conversations ahead, but we are committed to hearing all CCOF member voices and proceeding with transparency and respectful, open dialogue. 

CCOF will begin to organize professionally facilitated, small group discussions on a potential labeling proposal to take to the NOP.

We will use the same format that we used for our stakeholder meetings when we developed our Roadmap to an Organic California: Policy Report. The format includes a retreat-like setting, shared meals, room to disagree, and space to be creative together.  The discussions will be invite-only with a primary focus on CCOF members, and we will solicit broader CCOF member input as well. 

For more information, please contact CCOF Special Assistant Peter Nell at pnell@ccof.org.