For organic crop producers, most regulatory activity took place at the NOSB level, with recommendations passed to NOP on organic seed usage and conversion of native ecosystems to organic production. A few materials were amended on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
Improving organic seed usage
After more than two years of NOSB deliberations and public comment, NOSB passed a recommendation to revise the organic regulations to require continuous improvement of organic seed usage by organic farmers. Organic farmers are currently required to use organic seed when it is commercially available. However, the organic standards to do not require farmers to take proactive steps to source or develop organic seed and/or demonstrate continuous improvement of organic seed usage over time. This is the first proposed regulatory change to the organic seed requirements since the implementation of the organic standards. The Organic Trade Association thanks its Organic Seed Task Force for its perseverance and continued support on this issue. Our efforts now focus on: 1) ensuring NOSB’s work is fully translated through successful rulemaking; 2) ensuring that industry and certifiers are provided adequate guidance on implementing the rule; and 3) exploration of private sector solutions to increase organic seed usage.
Paper-based planting aids
In November, NOP announced it is extending the allowed use of “paper pots” until further notice. Paper pots and other growing containers are used as a vessel for growing transplants intended to be planted directly in the ground. The announcement is in response to a resolution passed by NOSB at the fall 2018 meeting that requested NOP to allow the continued use of paper pots while the technical review and potential rule making proceed. The Organic Trade Association voiced support for the extension of paper-based planting aids through our written and oral comments. Going forward, OTA is encouraging NOSB to take a broad approach for reviewing paper-based planting aids to be inclusive of generic paper-based production aids used as planting or seeding aids. This broadened approach will make efficient use of NOSB’s efforts to review the existing variety of paper-based planting aids that share these key common characteristics.
Eliminating the incentive to convert native ecosystems to organic farms
At the Spring 2018 meeting, NOSB passed a recommendation that would require that land supporting a native ecosystem cannot be certified for organic production for a period of 10 years from the date of conversion. Although most NOSB members supported the intent to disincentivize the conversion of native ecosystems to organic production, one member voted against the proposal because concerns of Native populations had not been adequately represented. The recommendation has been submitted for rulemaking upon NOP approval, which will involve another opportunity for public comments.
Changes to National List for crop production inputs
The NOP Final Rule published on December 27 will add two new materials for allowance as plant and soil amendments organic crop production: Magnesium oxide (for controlling the viscosity of a clay suspension agent for humates) and pH-adjusted Squid by-products from food waste processing. The rule will also add Rotenone as a prohibited non-synthetic material. Lastly, the rule will amend the current allowance of Micronutrients by expanding the allowable methods for documenting a deficiency of a micronutrient, which is a requirement for producers prior to using synthetic micronutrients in their crop operations. Instead of requiring soil tests, the rule allows micronutrient deficiencies be documented by soil or tissue testing, advice from certified crop advisors or professional agronomists, agricultural extension information, or other methods approved by the certifying agent. Hypochlorous Acid will also be allowed as a chlorine sanitizing material.
Plant-based planting aids, used to facilitate transplanting of closely spaced crops such as onions, salad greens, and herbs, are allowed until further notice. NOSB will continue its evaluation of paper pots in 2019, and any changes to the allowance of paper pots will be communicated by NOP.
NOP issued a finale rule to prohibit Rotenone. The prohibition extends to all geographic areas of NOP-certified crop production around the globe where it has historically been used as a pesticide for vegetables, berries, tree fruits, and other crops.
The NOP rule will also change the restriction on Micronutrients to remove soil testing as the only method for demonstrating a micronutrient deficiency and allow alternative verifiable methods, such as tissue testing when approved by the certifier.
The restricted use of Chlorine as post-harvest sanitizer was clarified in the Final Rule. Chlorine materials used in direct crop or food contact are permitted at levels approved by FDA or EPA for such purpose, provided the use is followed by a potable water rinse.
Looking ahead, NOSB is collecting stakeholder feedback to inform a proposal that may only allow inputs derived from aquatic plants, such as Kelp/Seaweed Fertilizers, when they are produced and harvested in a sustainable manner. A proposal for public comment is expected for the April 24-26, 2019 NOSB meeting in Seattle, WA.