As regenerative agriculture gains ground, third-party programs emerge to verify regenerative farms and food brands.
The USDA Organic seal and Non-GMO Project butterfly are the two most recognizable certifications on food products but those logos may be getting competition soon. Regenerative agriculture verification programs are emerging, and food companies are starting to display logos of these programs on their food products.
57 of top 100 food companies focusing on regenerative ag
Regenerative agriculture continues to grain ground in the United States and worldwide. Fifty-seven of the world’s leading 100 food companies have either made regenerative agriculture commitments or have publicly stated regenerative ag pilots or intentions, according to Tina Owens, co-lead nutrient density community of practice at the Soil & Climate Alliance.
These companies see regenerative agriculture as essential to mitigating climate change and rebuilding the world’s soils. At the recent COP27 summit, regenerative agriculture was touted as one of the solutions to combat climate change.
But as the regenerative agriculture trend continues to grow, so does the need for a uniform definition and standards for what regenerative agriculture is. Unlike organic, regenerative agriculture has had no such standards. Standards provide specific criteria for regenerative agriculture to producers and food brands and protect consumers from greenwashing by companies making unverified regenerative claims. A recent report by the Food and Land Use Coalition stated: “The lack of definition and misalignment around practices and what constitutes as ‘regenerative’ can create a risk of greenwashing.”
Fortunately, third-party regenerative agriculture verification programs are emerging. Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) has been adopted by tens of thousands of organic farms worldwide, and the ROC logo is now seen on products made by Patagonia, Nature’s Path, and Alter Eco. The Ecological Outcome Verified standard of the Savory Institute’s Land to Market program has been adopted by more than 80 brands in the food and fashion industries.
Three new regenerative agriculture standards—Soil Carbon Initiative, Certified Regenerative by A Greener World, and Regenified—are starting to verify farms and food brands. The three programs share similarities including an emphasis on building soil health, continuous improvement, and testing for positive outcomes such as better water quality and enhanced biodiversity, among others. A recent webinar by the Climate Collaborative featured these verification programs.
Soil Carbon Initiative focuses on entire supply chain
The Soil Carbon Initiative (SCI) focuses on rapidly scaling acres under regenerative management, starting with soil management. The program aims to deliver third-party verified outcomes of soil health, soil carbon, increased biodiversity, improved water quality, climate resiliency, and greater farm and rural prosperity.
“We measure outcomes and don’t dictate practices,” says Adam Kotin, SCI’s managing director.
Unlike ROC, SCI is open to all farmers—conventional to organic. “We want to welcome people where they are, but want to see a deepening commitment to soil health and regenerative practices,” Kotin says.
SCI’s six management pillars are minimizing soil disturbance, maintaining living roots in the ground, maximizing diversity both above and below ground, integrating livestock, reducing synthetic inputs, and farmer learning.
“We see regenerative agriculture as the implementation of these principles as ways that drive results from an environmental, economic, and agronomic perspective,” Kotin says.
A key part of SCI is testing for positive soil health outcomes, using the Haney Soil Test.
“This provides actionable insights to the farmer for building soil health and allows us to track progress over time,” Kotin says.
SCI is being developed in collaboration with SCS Global Services, an international leader in third-party certification.
A unique aspect of the SCI standard is that it focuses not just on the farm but the entire supply chain to food companies.
“We’re focused on acre transition and taking the full supply chain as part of our purview,” Kotin says.
A “go-to market” SCI pilot was launched in 2022 with 42 farmers involving more than 100,000 acres across different crops and production systems.
Another SCI pilot will be launched this year with the goal of having 10 million acres committed for SCI verification within the next three years.
An SCI logo has also been developed that food companies can display on products that are verified. Kotin says the logo should start appearing on food products in the second quarter of this year.
Certified Regenerative: comprehensive verification of the farm
“Certified Regenerative,” launched by independent, non-profit certifier A Greener World (AGW), is a comprehensive program, says Emily Moose, AGW executive director.
“It looks at a variety of sustainability metrics—not just air, water, soil health, and livestock—but also how workers are treated and buildings and infrastructure. This is meant to be a full 360-degree, complete picture of the farm.”
Some of the key features of Certified Regenerative include animal welfare requirements such as a prohibition on Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), an in-depth plan to improve biodiversity, social standards such as addressing living wages, and requirement for low- or no-till practices. A unique aspect of Certified Regenerative is that it prohibits the use of both agrochemicals on crops that will be directly consumed and genetically modified crops.
Central to the program is the regenerative plan, which a farmer develops with a qualified expert of their choice. AGW’s review panel reviews and approves the plan.
AGW’s role is to help farmers be accountable to the plan and deliver the benefits of the program.
“Producers have found this to be very helpful in terms of using it as a management tool and something that can be utilized on ongoing basis,” Moose says.
As with other regenerative agriculture certifications, soil health is the basis of AGW’s program.
“Soil health is foundational to sustainability, and the foundation of any healthy functioning living system that we all depend on,” Moose says.
Biodiversity is “incredibly important” to Certified Regenerative, Moose says. “It is measured on every farm in the program and ensuring that biodiversity is not only maintained but improved.”
Certified Regenerative also has a logo that food companies can display on their products. Zack’s Mighty Tortilla Chips, which are made with corn Certified Regenerative by AGW, now display the logo on their products.
Regenified uses a tiered approach to verification
Regenified is a verification program founded in 2021 by Gabe Brown and Allen Williams, two pioneers in regenerative agriculture.
“Both of those farmers have been in this regenerative space for two or three decades,” says Doug Peterson, chief science officer at Regenified. “Who better to start this process than them?”
Peterson says Regenified is a mark of good stewardship of the land and the earth. “We believe that if you nourish the soil, the plants, animals on it, everything flourishes including the communities, economics of rural communities, and economics of the individual farms.”
Regenified’s mission is simple. “It’s to help transition the world’s supply chain to regenerative agriculture by offering one of the most reliable standards and verification services,” Peterson says.
The Regenified “6-3-4 Verification Standard” aims to be very comprehensive, yet easy to understand, and is both practice- and outcome-based. Six stands for six pillars of regenerative agriculture: context or a farmer’s unique location, climate, and soil conditions, soil disturbance, “armoring” the soil, crop diversity, living roots in the ground, and livestock integration. Three stands for three rules of adaptive stewardship. Four ecosystem process outcomes are measured: water and mineral cycles, energy flow, and community dynamics.
Regenified is a tiered certification program based on continuous improvement. Tier one is 0%-20% of a farm operation is enrolled in Regenified, tier 2 is 20%-40%, tier 3 is 40%-60%, tier 4 is 60%-80%, and tier 5 is 80%-100%. In order to encourage continuous improvement, farmers cannot remain in any of the lower tiers for more than three years.
Peterson says the Regenified team has verified hundreds of thousands of acres with another 5 million acres in the pipeline. Products with the Regenified seal will start appearing on store shelves in the first and second quarters of this year, Peterson says.