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Update on Hydroponic/Container Production

by Rachel Witte |

In recent years we have seen an increase in the number and complexity of container-based agricultural production systems. These production systems were addressed by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in 2010 in their recommendation regarding Terrestrial Plants in Containers and Enclosures. This recommendation advised a prohibition on hydroponic and aeroponic systems, but was never finalized into official standards. In the interim a wide spectrum of container production has continued to evolve ranging from transplants, to rooftop gardens, to commercial crop production.

CCOF is participating in the hydroponic task force formed in 2015 by the National Organic Program (NOP). This group was formed to provide additional technical information and background to support NOP’s response. A final report is planned to be completed in 2016.

NOP may consider changes to the requirements for terrestrial plants in containers and enclosures (i.e., hydroponics, aquaponics, aeroponics, and crops produced within containers in substrate/media of any kind). This is an important time for operations with these production systems to review the relevant standards, existing NOSB recommendations regarding container production and to participate in the standard-setting process and dialogue. Potentially affected operations are strongly encouraged to keep abreast of developments and engage directly as this discussion unfolds at the standardssetting level.

Operations with novel production systems, hydroponic production, and container production may be subject to changes in standards at some point.

The exact details and timeline of these potential changes are unknown.

Due to the uncertainty of the outcome and timeline, the financial and operational implications for your operation should be carefully assessed. Future investment should only be made after taking into account the potential that standards may change to require new practices, or specific practices could be disallowed at some point.

CCOF is working to fully understand the operations of those using greenhouses, containers and hydroponic systems and, wherever possible, helping to make them aware of all existing standards, recommendations and potential changes. This will help operations assess impacts on their systems and provide tools for them to participate directly in the larger discussion. CCOF will also be carefully applying existing natural resources elements to greenhouse and container production wherever applicable. Over time these efforts may include new inspection elements, Organic System Plan updates, and/or notifications.

Due to the potential complexities involved, CCOF may not be able to review applications for container or hydroponic production within our expedited services program. We encourage operations to work with us directly and to either apply with ample time or allow CCOF time to review changes to their operations prior to implementation.

Hallmarks of organic production and philosophy such as sitespecific management, robust biological activity, conservation, and maintenance or improvement of natural resources will continue to be important elements long-term. In general, systems that do not rely solely on direct application of liquid nutrition and that mimic soil and soil biology are more likely to meet the 2010 NOSB recommendation, which has not been finalized with the current standards. Operations can learn the latest by visiting our container production page under Standards and Program Manuals at

As agriculture evolves and new production systems are developed in response to unique challenges and new constraints, we are hopeful that a robust discussion and collaborative approach at the national level will result in clear and consistent standards that provide a level playing field and result in positive impacts on agriculture and the world.