Measuring Regenerative Agriculture
Regenerative agriculture is becoming a hot topic, for good reason. The idea of using farming and ranching to combat climate change is compelling. But with all the enthusiasm, some critical questions remain. In particular, how will the value of regenerative practices be measured and assessed? What practices, tests and benchmarks will distinguish a genuinely “regenerative” farm from another?
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
Agriculture has been singled out as a climate-change bogeyman. Fortunately, new methods of raising meat and cultivating crops are emerging as one of the brightest hopes in the war against global warming. Brought to prominence over the last decade by former special-forces-commando-turned-wildlife-biologist Allan Savory, regenerative agriculture can improve soil health, increase biodiversity, and sequester carbon from the atmosphere, while offering livestock a higher quality of life. New research also shows that regeneratively raised meat is richer than conventionally raised meat in the nutrients that support human health at all life stages.
The Certification Landscape
For regenerative agriculture to have the greatest impact, the farming and food industries have to agree on ways to measure practices and outcomes. Over the past few years, a few regenerative certifications were introduced by the nonprofit sector. The goal is to provide an industry standard and clear guidance for consumers who want to support the practice. Created with rigor and clear standards, these certifications could strengthen the perception of regenerative agriculture and increase adoption.
At present, there are two leading organizations working to establish an industry-wide certification:
Ecological Outcome Verification
The Savory Institute’s Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV) is focused on helping farmers and ranchers measure the impact and outcomes their practices have on the land. They measure the health of the land as a living system, tracking outcomes in biodiversity, soil health and ecosystem function (water cycle, mineral cycle and energy flow). EOV is the methodology behind the Land to Market program, a fast-growing collaboration among industry partners working to heal the planet by regenerating grasslands and pushing regenerative products to market. The Land to Market program now covers more than 2.5 million acres of monitored land, with 1000+ products carrying its verification seal, including brands such as Burberry, Timberland and Applegate.
Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC)
Created by the nonprofit Regenerative Organic Alliance, the ROC relies on a criteria rooted in farming practice. This certification requires less testing of the land and focuses on whether farmers’ techniques are compatible with regenerative principles, assessing such practices as no-till soil management and herd rotation. The ROC certification is built on three pillars: Soil Health, Animal Welfare and Social Fairness. Thus far, 80 farms have received the ROC certification, with 28 brands licensed, and over 220,000 acres of land certified. With the backing of organizations like Patagonia, Rodale Institute and Tazo, ROC was established in 2017 by a group of farmers, business leaders and experts in soil health, animal welfare and social equity.
While the Savory Institute and Regenerative Organic Alliance have been leading the charge, a number of others are emerging to meet evolving stakeholder expectations, including:
- Soil Carbon Initiative (SCI) is a newer initiative led by environmental nonprofit Green America to empower and incentivize farmers to transition acres to regenerative farming, primarily focused on grains and other specialty crops. Through its latest Go-To-Market pilot program for 2022, SCI opened 100 spots for farmers to undergo the certification.
- Regen 1 is a program of Green Brown Blue, a food systems accelerator backed by Google. Regen 1 focuses on five ecosystem benefits: water, soil, equity, biodiversity and air for California-based farms and producers.
- A Greener World Regenerative Certification operates as a management tool that helps producers meet their own regenerative goals through an audited, regenerative plan. The program certifies farmers in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom and South Africa. Established in 2014, the organization offers a suite of similar certifications including Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Grassfed, Certified Non-GMO and Certified Organic.
Studies have shown that most consumers are not yet familiar with the term “regenerative.” A clear and valid certification process will be critical. Right now, consumers are overwhelmed and sometimes skeptical of the certification labels on food. The government, religious organizations and dozens of nonprofits certify foods as “fair trade,” “non-GMO,” “gluten-free” and on and on. To give the term “certified regenerative” meaning will require consumer education, social media outreach, innovative packaging and storytelling. Done right, this may unlock a market transformation, enticing consumers to prioritize regenerative practices in their purchasing decisions.
Despite the lack of consensus thus far, an increase in the number of verified farms will create a ripple effect among producers and brands to build on the existing momentum toward regenerative. Certification processes can be costly—a big barrier of entry for small producers. Investments from CPG, food brands and investment funds—paired with education—to help farmers transition to regenerative is key.
Despite headwinds, the time might be here for major change. Surveys show that millennials and Gen Z do care about sustainability and they support environmentally and socially responsible practices. That trend is unlikely to slow down. The goal: connect and rally consumers around an alternative way of farming that prioritizes the environment, animal wellbeing and farmer profitability while bringing a nutritious product to market.
The Path to a Regenerative Farming Revolution
Earlier this summer, The Attention FWD team published a story for Hormel Foods exploring the path toward a regenerative farming revolution, which included stepping into a regenerative agriculture farm; insights from industry pioneers; the launch of Applegate’s own regenerative hot dog and its journey toward a mainstream market, and other thought-provoking insights about regenerative farming, its connection with health, climate change and the future of food.