Is Hydroponics Organic? Debunking the Myths & Exploring the Facts
Hydroponics with organic aspects of cultivation offers the opportunity to create future agriculture by providing organic food free from synthetic pesticides. But is hydroponically grown food organic?
Organic hydroponics - what is it, and is it possible?
Growing plants in soilless systems may be new to many people. Meanwhile, hydroponics was known even before World War II. It is one way of growing plants with many benefits. It is possible to create organic hydroponic cultivation by eliminating artificial means of protection and conventional fertilization. Organic hydroponics gives enormous health benefits for humans and advantages for the environment.
What conditions must organic farms meet?
Hydroponic growers can implement organic practices in hydroponic systems based on organic agriculture principles to produce healthier food. Hydroponics provides plants with everything they need to grow and develop properly. And ensuring optimal conditions related to the ecological aspects of cultivation, such as fertilization or plant protection products, guarantees the highest quality superfood.
Fertilization in organic hydroponic farming
In organic agriculture, fertilization is concentrated on maintaining or building soil fertility and biological activity while creating optimal conditions for plant development. In organic hydroponics, fertilizers are primarily nutrient solutions derived from organic plant and animal material or naturally extracted compounds.
There are many products on the market for organic hydroponic production. Such products include liquid organic fertilizers from various plant and animal sources, including fish and seaweed emulsions, hydrolysates, and oilseed extract. The list of ecological raw materials used in fertilization is available from the Organic Materials Review Institute.
Hydroponic fertilizers are designed to nourish a plant that takes its food only from a nutrient solution fed directly to the roots. Thanks to this, plants do not waste energy searching for food in the soil and use it to increase biomass.
For example, the cultivation of hydroponic lettuce obtained ten times higher yields and 90% less water consumption than conventional soil cultivation. The only problem with organic hydroponics may be the proper management of fertilizers compared to conventional hydroponics. Therefore, more and more often in organic fertilization, microorganisms are used that mineralize organic fertilizers.
Plant protection products
Prevention is the primary method of protecting organically grown plants in soil and soilless systems. All activities in the cultivation, rotation, and selection of species and varieties, as well as the dates of cultivation and sowing, are to create conditions under which harmful organisms will not occur or will occur in a low intensity, not having economic significance.
An undoubted aspect of maintaining the health of crops is regular monitoring. Carrying out preventive or protective treatments too late may be ineffective.
In the event of pests, preparations based on essential oils or insect-repellent plant extracts are used, which are environmentally friendly and harmless to living organisms. Orange oil is a top-rated product used in pest and disease control. Microbiological preparations, for example, based on the Isaria fumosoroseus fungus, are also helpful in the ecological protection of plants.
The soil in hydroponic organic farming
Modern ecological standards come from the Humous Farming movement born before World War II in Europe, based on three principles. The most important of them is the principle that when applying fertilization, you should 'feed the soil, not the plants'.
Unfortunately, this principle cannot be met by soilless cultivation. Soilless cultivation includes not only hydroponics but also aeroponics and aquaponics. The use of soil is also a fundamental principle in conventional agriculture. On this basis, plant products are certified organic.
Organic certificate for hydroponic cultivation
Organic certification for hydroponic farms is a controversial topic due to the fact that hydroponic plants are grown without soil. In practice, this means that a hydroponic farm cannot receive legal organic certification.
Legal acts in different regions of the world provide other information. In Canada, hydroponic farming is not considered organic because it does not meet the minimum soil requirements. Likewise, in EU countries, hydroponic farms cannot be classified as organic because they do not grow plants in soil-based systems. There are, however, exceptions, such as the cultivation of herbs or chicory. Such plant products are sold to consumers in pots filled with the growing medium.
So far, the only country granting organic certificates is the United States. Since 2017, the National Organic Standards Board has voted for organic certification of hydroponic farms, ruling that if hydroponic cultivation of plants is carried out under organic standards, it can be certified organic.
According to USDA:
"In order to make an organic claim or use the USDA Organic Label, the final product must follow strict production, handling, and labeling standards and go through the organic certification process. The standards address various factors, such as soil quality, animal-raising practices, and weed and pest control. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used."Source: https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2016/07/22/understanding-usda-organic-label, Aug 02, 2021
Miles McEvoy, Deputy Administrator of the National Organic Program in Food and Nutrition
According to the CFS, these rules violate the Organic Foods Production Act and Regulations of 1990 (OFPA), which mandate organic farms to improve soil fertility. Therefore, soilless cultivation, despite maintaining other aspects of organic production, cannot be legally qualified as and called organic.
Benefits of hydroponic organic production
Faster plant growth
The plant must actively search for nutrients and water in the soil, often found at great depths. Therefore, the roots of plants grown in the soil produce a much more extensive root system than when grown using hydroponic systems. Then they transport the collected water to all tissues, using energy for this process, which they could utilize for faster growth. That is why using hydroponic systems makes plants grow much quicker, are more prominent, and have a higher yield.
The supply of all the necessary ingredients in organic nutrients guarantees that they are quickly absorbed into the green mass of plants. Appropriate pH and EC, as well as the content of minerals, prevent the accumulation of unnecessary elements. Additionally, organic fertilizer used in organic hydroponics must not contain contaminants.
So plants grown hydroponically are not exposed to unnecessary substances such as heavy metals, chemical fertilizers, and residues. There is no risk of these substances accumulating in a balanced hydroponic medium. Thanks to that, ecological hydroponics guarantees healthy food without contamination. The accumulation of nitrates in the soil is similar. Often, fast-growing plants excessively use nitrogen from the ground, absorbing it in large amounts, which favors the accumulation of nitrates (V) that are hazardous to human health.
Less water consumption with hydroponic systems
Hydroponics use about 90% less water compared to conventional agriculture. That is because, contrary to conventional farms, there is no risk of water seeping into the deeper layers of the soil in hydroponic systems. This aspect is crucial in times of desertification of areas. World Health Organization estimates that by 2030 approximately 1.6 billion people will be deprived of access to drinking water.
No toxic residues from plant protection products
Climate control and adapting it to the needs of plants in a closed room without using soil can maintain the sterility of the crops. Soil diseases and the risk of pest infestation are no longer threats. Food safety is increased by eliminating plant protection products, which are also of organic origin in organic farming. Orange oil and beneficial microorganisms are often used in the protection and pest control of organic crops.
Currently, cultivation with the use of hydroponic systems is highly controversial.
However, due to the increasing overpopulation of the planet, it is inevitable to change trends in food production free from chemicals and contact with a potentially contaminated environment.
Organic hydroponics comes to the rescue, guaranteeing healthy food rich in pro-health and nutritional substances.