As reported in the OMAMA Report, a 2006 the Organic Trade Association poll of 1,162 home gardeners showed that 97 percent of those responding are confused by fertilizers and soil amendments that are labeled ‘organic’.’
Choosing fertilizers and soil amendments for your organic garden can become easier once you understand that the way products are labeled for organic foods differ from labels for products that are used for organic gardening.
Unfortunately, when it comes to fertilizer and soil amendments used in organic gardens there is no national logo or seal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) such as we find in organic foods Not only that but regulations vary by state as to what can be called “organic” on a label. Often if you see the word “organic” on the label it often refers only to the chemical composition of the product.
Small wonder that home gardeners are confused! Today, home gardeners who would like to garden with fertilizers and soil amendment products allowed in certified organic farming can use the following tips:
1. Look for the OMRI Listed seal. The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing independent review of products allowed for use in organic production and processing. OMRI Listed—or approved—products may be used on operations that are certified organic under the USDA National Organic Program.
2. Look for labels that read: "This fertilizer product is allowed for use in organic production;" "Meets National Organic Program requirements for organic production;" " Suitable for organic farming;" "Acceptable for use in organic production;" "Meets the requirements of the National Organic Program (NOP) for use in organic production;" or "This product is listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) for use in organic production," To find soil amendments or fertilizers would more likely to be allowed for use in certified organic farming. These statements are have been approved for or are currently in use on labels of fertilizer and soil amendment products that are allowed in organic food production.
3. There are a wide range of fertilizer and soil amendment products that are approved for organic garden use. While the N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) testing of your soil should determine what to use, there are some time we need something specific for the life cycle of our garden or landscape.
Landscapers and gardeners can find fertilizer products allowed in organic farming and gardening here.
4. Educate yourself. It’s important to know what allowed and what’s not when it comes to organic food production. One example of a substance that is not allowed for use in organic farming that can be found in some fertilizers that are labeled ‘organic’ is composted biosolid material (wastewater sludge), which while technically ‘organic’ is full of toxins and inappropriate for food production. However, animal manure composted according to the USDA’s National Organic Program standards are allowed for organic production. Gardeners who plan to sell their surplus produce as organic or who want to garden according to the national organic standards must not use any products containing prohibited substances.
You can find a list of the substances at the USDA National Organic Program website.