Organic farming fights aquaponics and hydroponics against soil farming

The global organic farming market is projected to hit $ 103 billion this year, up 8% year over year. In the US, some of the growth is due to high-tech indoor farming. The growing trend raises questions about the real meaning of organic.

Organic buyers rely on the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) “organic” label when purchasing their products. What they probably don’t know is that more and more of it is being grown hydroponically, aquaponically, or in containers, all non-soil techniques.

Paul Muller is a co-owner of Full Belly Farm, a 500-acre farm northeast of Sacramento that has grown certified organic products for 38 years. 80 varieties of organic vegetables, fruits and nuts grow here and are sold locally to supermarkets and farmers’ markets in the Bay Area.

“There is a whole system that we manage, manage and promote,” said Müller. “If you look out here and pause just a little, these plants are full of bees doing their pollination.”

About 160 kilometers south in Half Moon Bay, Ken Armstrong also grows pesticide-free products that he sells in local restaurants. It is not certified organic, although it could be. He says it’s too much red tape. However, Armstrong believes the aquaponic farming method he uses is just as natural and delicious.

So what is organic? What really matters is the label. Organic farmers have to adhere to strict organic rules in order to be able to attach an “organic” sticker to their products. With this they can collect a premium. But the USDA issued a statement a few years ago that changed the playing field: it allowed large indoor growers to get certified as organic. This put pressure on the traditional outdoor organic farmers who cry badly.

“Farming is tough and people are always thinking of a better way to do it in organic farming. But if it’s a little too innovative, someone complains, ”says Daniel Sumner, agricultural economist and professor at the University of California, Davis.

“When it comes to organic, image is a big part of it. We’re in a time when people aren’t bragging about technology. If anything, they want to talk about health and safety and all of those things instead of the technology that creates them, ”Sumner said. “So I’m not surprised that people in the food industry these days don’t talk about their technology.”

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