Antonio Ruiz, Murgiverde Spain, responds to Dutch criticism

"The Dutch want hydroponic crops to be accredited as organic"

The giant expansion of the Spanish organic greenhouse vegetable acreage has resulted in some consternation in Holland. About 1,000 hectares of organic Spanish greenhouse vegetables seem to be cultivated in greenhouses that where built on a rock bottom in which the growers have deposited soil from elsewhere. 

In Holland, and in the whole of Europe, the rules for organic cultivation are pretty much clear; organics have to be grown in organic certified soil. There is a strict enforcement on the origin and state of the soil. An exception is made for growers in Scandinavia; they can certify their produce as organic when grown in organic soil in containers. But this exemption will be phased out over the next ten years, the EU announced recently. 

Growers in Southern Europe applied for the exemption too, but the EU did not answer their request. Therefore, the organic production in Spain will need to comply with the general standards. It is the question if growing in a layer of soil on a rock bottom meets these standards. 

According to Dutch MP Tjeerd de Groot of D66, the Spanish production can not be certified as organic. He asks for more clearance in regards to the subject, because according to him it creates false competition with Dutch and other European growers who need to meet strict organic standards. Growers who grow in organic coco peat for example, can not label their produce as organic, even not when they grow without synthetic fertilizers and only make use of biological, organic crop protection. In the U.S. this same method is classified as organic production. 

The Dutch MP has asked to the secretary of state to clear things out in regards to the Spanish method of growing organics on bedrock with the help of auxiliary soil. 

According to the commercial director of one of the largest Spanish companies producing organic vegetables, the Almeria-based Murgiverde, which has more than 400 hectares devoted to organic farming from a total of around 1500 hectares in production, "the Netherlands has problems with its high water table (an accumulation of groundwater that is located at a relatively small depth below ground level). We do not have this problem in Spain and we enjoy a clear competitive advantage. For this reason, the Dutch lobby is pushing even the EU to accept hydroponic farming as organic through certifications," explains Antonio Ruiz Rodríguez.

"We have a lot more (and more natural) soil, and they do not have this advantage. Every country seeks to defend its own interests; it is normal," says Antonio Ruiz. "The Netherlands, for example, will continue to have huge logistical advantages over us," he adds.

Organic farming is a strategic business area for Murgiverde, even though its profitability has been declining in recent years. "Prices for organic products will continue to fall, because supply is growing above demand, so I believe that organic crops will eventually replace conventional crops. We think that this is the best way to ensure the survival of producers, as the price wars in conventional products are reaching unsustainable levels."

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