What is it?
Regenerative agriculture is a new proposed agriculture standard from the Rodale Institute. Essentially it takes the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) and expands on it. This new standard includes areas that are unfortunately not a part of the NOP, such as “social fairness” (i.e. farmworker rights). A farmer that meets all program requirements, would receive a “Regenerative Organic Certificate”, according to Rodale’s website. (https://rodaleinstitute.org/regenerativeorganic/)
Rodale also states that, “Regenerative Organic Certification does not aim to supplant current organic standards. Instead, this certification aims to support these standards while at the same time facilitate widespread adoption of holistic, regenerative practices throughout agriculture. It builds upon the standards set forth by USDA Organic and similar programs internationally, particularly in the areas of animal welfare and farmer and worker fairness.” (https://rodaleinstitute.org/regenerativeorganic/)
Partnering with Dr. Bronner’s and NSF International (who is leading the public comment process), this collaborative effort has the end goals of the following:
– “Increase soil organic matter over time, and sequester carbon in the soil
– Improve animal welfare
– Provide economic stability and fairness for farmers, ranchers, and workers
– Create resilient regional ecosystems and communities” (https://rodaleinstitute.org/regenerativeorganic/)
To accomplish these goals, the program is broken into three areas: 1. Soil Health, 2. Social Fairness, and 3. Animal Welfare.
1. Soil Health – This area focuses on carbon sequestration and builds upon current biodynamic farming standards. Tenets include the following.
– “No/low Tillage
– Cover Crops
– Crop Rotations
– Rotational Grazing
– No Synthetic Inputs
– No GMOs or Gene Editing
– Promotes Biodiversity
– Builds Soil Organic Matter
– No Soilless Systems” (https://rodaleinstitute.org/regenerativeorganic/)
2. Social Fairness – This area builds on current Fair Trade and similar standards. While some of the below tenets are already apart of U.S. law (no child labor), several are not (living wages). Farmworkers are unfortunately quite often not paid anything close to a living wage. Working conditions can be horrific. Farmers themselves suffer too when they don’t receive fair prices for their product.
– “Living Wages
– No Child Labor
– No Forced Labor
– Maximum Working Hours
– Fair Pricing for Buyers/Farmers
– Long-Term Commitments” (https://rodaleinstitute.org/regenerativeorganic/)
3. Animal Welfare – The third and final area builds on current humane certifications. It focuses on the following tenets to improve living conditions of animals.
– “Five Freedoms
– Grass-Fed / Pasture-Raised
– No CAFOs
– Suitable Shelter
– Minimize Transport Distances” (https://rodaleinstitute.org/regenerativeorganic/)
I’m obviously a proponent of all three pillars listed above. I think we all want better soil, better working conditions for those who grow our food, and better treatment for animal raised for food (that we should be eating a LOT less of).
A concern about the new program is that Regenerative Agriculture Certification would come with yet another symbol for consumers to understand and need to recognize. There is already a great deal of confusion around the USDA Organic seal and use of the word “organic” in general. Ideally the NOP standards would be revised to include stricter standards and additional areas of focus (like soil health, social fairness, and animal welfare). Since revising such a large set of standards is extremely difficult, not to mention the current gridlock in Washington right now, it is highly unlikely that the NOP standards would ever be revised in such a way.
I’ll also raise the point that small and/or beginning farmers already have a hard time meeting the current NOP standards, never mind an additional set of stricter standards. Therefore I would like to see Rodale’s program (or the NOP for that matter) include assistance for these farmers to help them meet the stricter standards. Farming is a hard business to get into, and is not a very lucrative one once you are in. Last I checked, the average farmer’s age is 57. We desperately need more people to get into farming. I hope that the “fair pricing for farmers” aspect of the regenerative program is a way to encourage this.
I agree with Rodale in that agricultural systems should be sustainable, meaning they improve the natural resources used instead of depleting them. Because the Regenerative Agriculture standards require more of farmers, there’s potential for a lot of agricultural innovation and improvement. (https://rodaleinstitute.org/regenerativeorganic/) There could be resource sharing, new collaborations, and more if the program is able to encourage that sort of work.
Rodale also states that, “The environmental outcomes of a systemic shift to regenerative organic agricultural practices could be profound. In 2014, research by Rodale Institute estimated that if current crop acreage and pastureland shifted to regenerative organic practices, 100% of annual global CO2 emissions could be sequestered in the soil.” (https://rodaleinstitute.org/regenerativeorganic/)
I look forward to following this story and see where these standards go. The world is at a place where stricter standards are a necessity to prevent further damage to the planet, stop human rights violations happening in our fields, and ensure animals are treated as humanely as possible.