On June 3, 2019, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announcedthat the National Organic Program (NOP) published a letter to certifiers titled, “Certification of Organic Crop Container Systems.”
Over the last decade, there has been a disagreement within the organic industry about use of container systems in organic production of crops. In 2010, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted against use of crop container systems, which includes container, hydroponic, and other plant pot-based systems, with or without soil as the growing media for organic crops. However, in 2017, NOSB reversed course and rejected a proposal to prohibit container systems in organic food production. Meanwhile, NOP has maintained that container systems are eligible for organic certification provided the certifier determines that the system complies with the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and the NOP implementing organic regulations.
Discussions during the most recent NOSB meeting in April 2019 suggested that there was a lack of consistency in certifiers’ understanding of requirements for organic certification of container systems. Under the OFPA, organic crops may not be produced on land to which any prohibited substances, including synthetic chemicals, have been applied during the three years immediately preceding the harvest of the agricultural products. This requirement is referred to as the three-year transition period. Allegedly, some certifying agents had certified operations in which the land on which containers were placed had not met the three-year transition period, leading to inconsistent application of the law.
As clarified in the letter by NOP, the requirements for the land do apply even if the crops do not touch the land. NOP explains that the site where the containers will be placed must be eligible for organic crop production; the land use histories for container system sites must meet the same requirements that apply to an in-ground soil-based system. In other words, the container system as well as the land underlying the container system must meet the organic requirements.
Certifying agents are to apply the organic certification standard as interpreted by NOP to all new container systems that have not yet been certified under the organic program. Operations that have been certified organic are not affected.