If your vegetables are grown without soil, can they still be called organic?

In the middle of a lifestyle modernization, food demand is experiencing an unprecedented development and increase. Quality is becoming an important criterion when choosing food, in addition to quantity and price. Modernization and development have been unfortunately shrinking agricultural lands while food needs keep growing. But at the same time, this paradoxical phenomenon has encouraged innovations in soil-less farming practices.

 There are several soil-less farming techniques, but in this article, we are covering hydroponics and aquaponics only.

Hydroponics came about from the understanding that plants survive not from soil but from nutrients in it. As such, when all nutrients needed are provided, plants do not need soil. This growing method has been developed since the 11800s The biggest advantage in hydroponics is the accuracy of supplied nutrients. At the right supply of nutrients, the quantity and quality of crops are optimal.

The common planting media used to replace soil are: coconut husk, sand, gravel, wood chips, rice husk charcoal, sponge, hydroton, and rockwool. The plants that can be grown with this method include, but are not limited to, paprikas, lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, chinese cabbages, eggplants, chili peppers, melons, etc.

 Another water based growing method, which is currently gaining popularity, is aquaponic. This system combines aquaculture and hydroponics, in which plants are grown at the same time as fish. It simply uses fish droppings to fertilize plants.

In this system, the practioners are required to understand the nature of the fish and plants to be raised. The type and number of fish in the pond are the limiting factors in the amount of nutrients available for plants in the water. Knowledge on determining the plants that would grow well from a certain type of fish at a certain number is very important to get the optimal result. This process may take a while. The good news is that there is no need to add fertilizer in the system.

Some people question whether the above practices can be considered organic farming. The Indonesian government has provided the definition of organic agriculture on SNI 01-6792-2002 as a holistic production management system that improves and promotes a healthy agroecosystem, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activities. In other words, organic farming is a practice that utilizes natural processes without the use of synthetic materials.

The Center for Research and Development of the Ministry of Agriculture published its guidelines in 2013 containing additional information on organic products. Those are the use of local seeds and not from genetically modified organisms (GMO), no use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, healthy usage of soil, water, and air, minimized pollution, etc.

Basically, hydroponics, aquaponic, and organic farming provide farmers options. Every method that is managed well will have positive impacts on the environment.  (Roidah Afifah, Universitas Brawijaya).