Hydroponic produce as good as organic
Organic produce is all the rage at health food stores and is often touted as the healthiest option by health experts. In order to be considered Organic there are some qualification standards. According to the USDA page on Organic Agriculture Standards organic produce has these requirements:
- Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
- Only use approved materials
- Do not use genetically modified ingredients
- Annual onsite inspections
- Separate organic food from non-organic food
Why hydroponic seems to meet Organic standards
The requirements listed above seem to indicate that hydroponic produce might already qualify as organic. Hydroponically grown produce is usually done indoors in a controlled environment and because of this little to no pesticides are often used. Hydroponics often uses recirculating water and nutrient solution and therefore use much less water than traditional soil gardening whether it be organic soil gardening or conventional soil gardening. Very specifically calculated nutrients are also added to the water to create the right nutrient solution for the plants which preserves natural resources. When growing hydroponically the growers are giving the plants they choose to grow the optimal conditions for growth and this allows the plants to thrive and therefore they really don’t need to use genetically modified seed such as is often created for outdoors conditions like droughts or pest resistance.
A hydroponic farmer can grow organic heirloom varieties of seed in their greenhouse or even a futuristic indoor vertical farm located closer to large population markets. This farmer can employ processes and equipment for pest reduction and if necessary can deal with pests using organic approved natural pesticides. Annual onsite inspections would not be a problem and crops could easily be separated if growing conventional & organic seed.
Why do some people believe hydroponic is not organic?
The only thing about hydroponic cultivation of food crops that may not meet the current organic standards is the fertilizer being used. Because the nutrients that are added to the water in hydroponic gardening are often raw and mined materials and not derived directly from an organic source some people do not feel that this makes them organic enough. These criticisms are being met however and there is effort by some growers to use organic fertilizers in their hydroponic growing. The problem is that organic fertilizers do not currently perform nearly as well as the specific non-organic fertilizer formulas. The organic formulations are often based on materials like kelp, bat guano, worm castings, or similar materials. The current problems with these methods is that they encourage excessive bacterial growth and really are not exactly what plants need in order to grow healthy in water. The right bacteria is important in soil gardening and aquaponics but can sometimes present challenges in pure water, often creating a stinky mess if the wrong inputs are added.
The hope for the future
The food needs for the world are constantly growing along with the population. A diet high in vegetables such as may be grown hydroponically has been shown to lead to a healthier lifestyle. The future will need more high quality plant based foods and hydroponics provides the best yields in the shortest amount of time often while doing so without chemical pesticides. The nutrient content of the growing solution can be precisely controlled for optimal nutrition of the produce leading to healthier consumers. The governing body of organic standards in the US has been said to currently be considering changing the organic requirements for hydroponics in relation to the fertilizer used in the process. If this change takes place growers will have more incentive to invest in increasing the supply of quality hydroponically grown food. Consumers will have greater access to fresh, high nutrient food, and the food supply chain will be improved as more growing sites such as urban vertical farms come online to grow organic produce. The future is looking green.
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