I’ve been asking farmers, ranchers, companies, colleagues, and competitors this question for the last two years and the varying and diverse set of answers I’ve heard is like a spoon full of soil microbes – almost too many to count!
But when it comes to regenerative agriculture, a few things are clear. Farmers and ranchers want to be recognized for the practices they’ve implemented on their farms that improve soil health, sequester carbon, support biodiversity, protect watersheds, and create resilient and sustainable businesses. Companies and brands want to differentiate themselves and their supply chains when they work with these farmers and ranchers; consumers want to be informed about how their food and fibre is produced and are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on that. So, if not everyone agrees what regenerative agriculture means or includes, how can people communicate about it?
The new Regenerative Organic Certified™ (ROC) framework and label aims to be one common language to talk about regenerative agriculture.
Since joining PUR Projet, I’ve been closely following the development of the ROC framework. Earlier this year had the pleasure of joining the soil health advisory committee with some brilliant and accomplished folks to provide feedback and recommendations on the final pieces of the certification. Regenerative Organic Certified™ is meant to be an all-encompassing certification that promotes holistic agricultural practise leading to carbon sequestration, improvements in animal welfare, and economic stability for farmers, ranchers, and workers. So if you ask the folks at the Regenerative Organic Alliance, or the multiple brands, farmers, and ranchers that have supported this multi-year endeavour what regenerative agriculture means to them, they’ll probably hand you this 54 page framework document.
It can be a bit intimidating at first, but that’s kind of the point of an all-encompassing certification. In the next 500 words, I’ll try to breakdown what your journey towards ROC could look like.
First, make sure you hold a USDA organic certification or international equivalent. To be certified under ROC, you first need to be a certified organic producer; and if you’re not farming in the “Global North” you also need to hold a social fairness certification recognized under ROC.
Next, familiarize yourself with the ROC Framework – it’s broken down into three sections or pillars: (1) Soil Health & Land Management, (2) Animal Welfare, and (3) Farmer and Worker Fairness (note: if your operation does not involve any commercial animals you can skip section 2). Within each pillar, there is a bronze, silver and gold level; bronze representing the beginning level and gold being reserved for those operating at the highest level of regenerative organic production. You can label products grown on ROC land at all levels but there are varying requirements for how much of your total land must be certified under ROC depending on the level you’re certified under. During the mandatory annual audit, your operation must meet 100% of the required practices for that level (bronze, silver or gold).
This certification is meant to challenge the way farming is practiced so by necessity it has to be full of innovative and unfamiliar requirements that span across the agronomic, social, environmental, and animal welfare spheres.
SOIL HEALTH & LAND MANAGEMENT
The Soil Health and Land Management pillar outlines the practices that you must implement and requirements you must adhere to that improve soil health, biodiversity, and fertility. This section includes the Regenerative Organic System Plan producers must complete describing their tillage regime, soil tests, native flora and fauna and other KPIs for each pillar. It provides guidance on waterway protection, deforestation, waste, and prohibited substances before taking a deep dive into specific practices like crop rotations, vegetative cover, rotational grazing, and requirements for the number of regenerative practices that must be implemented at each level. Part of this pillar also includes mandatory soil testing – both lab tests on key soil health indicators as well as in-field testing which must be completed each year by producers as part of the audit process. I told you it’s comprehensive.
The second pillar, Animal Welfare, is designed to incorporate the five freedoms of animal welfare plus additional species-specific criteria. This section outlines the criteria that must be met for nutrition and water, environment and shelter, handling, health, slaughter, transportation, and personnel.
FARMERS AND WORKER FAIRNESS
The third pillar, Farmer and Worker Fairness, applies to all workers on ROC farms and sets out requirements for labour, treatment of employees, employment conditions (wages, hours, rights), and health and safety. As I mentioned earlier in this article, bronze and silver operations in the Global North do not need to hold an existing Fairtrade type of certification; however, they must complete a social audit with a ROC certifier to ensure all criteria under this pillar is met.
Then, after successfully meeting all the requirements within each pillar, you are awarded a bronze, silver, or gold level and can label your product in accordance with ROC Labeling and Supply Chain Guidelines.
If this is your first-time hearing or reading about ROC, I hope I haven’t scared you off. This certification is meant to challenge the way farming is practiced so by necessity it has to be full of innovative and unfamiliar requirements that span across the agronomic, social, environmental, and animal welfare spheres. ROC sets the bar high. But to move agriculture from where it is today to where it needs to be to contribute to a healthy planet and sustain a growing population, we need to be ambitious. We need high bars. We need regenerative farmers. But we can’t ask them to do it alone. We need regenerative brands and regenerative minded consumers too.
The ROC is a global certification available to all farmers around the world. It’s adaptable for large scale farmers and smallholders organized in cooperative structures.
The ROC is a global certification available to all farmers around the world. It’s adaptable for large scale farmers and smallholders organized in cooperative structures. Look for the full public launch of ROC to be released later this summer. If you have questions or would like to learn more we’re always happy to chat!
Paul is an adaptive manager, problem solver, and soil expert with a strong understanding of carbon dynamics and sequestration potential under various agricultural management practices. After earning his MSc in Soil Science, Paul joined PUR Projet as Project Manager and lead on Regenerative Agriculture topics, where he develops, implements, manages and monitors ecosystem restoration projects in agricultural landscapes across North America.