Regenerative Agriculture Certification

Interested in regenerative agriculture certification? What’s it worth? How much does it cost? Is it hard to maintain? We’ll cover all this and more in this article.

Be warned, acronyms ahead!

What Is the New Regenerative Agriculture Certification?

The new Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) was created by the Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA). The ROA is comprised of a series of institutions like the Rodale Institute, Dr. Bronner’s, Patagonia, Fair World Project, and others.

They seek to add more rigorous standards to organic agriculture similar to what the Rain Forest Alliance did to improve certified organic coffee.

The pilot program behind ROC is complete and they are not offering full certification.

Tap or click here to see the current ROA board, current executive director and other board members as member institutions may change in the future.

Check here to see current corporate allies and donors. As of the time of this article it includes the following:

  • Dr. Bronner’s – Dr. Bronner’s is a seller of holistic soap products
  • Patagonia
  • Patagonia Provisions
  • Navitas Organics
  • White Leaf Provisions
  • Emerald Grasslands – Canadian grass-fed butter
  • Boochcraft Organic Hard Kombucha – Yep, alcoholic Kombucha. We love it!
  • PUR Project
  • Tradin Organic

Why Was It Created?

The ROC certfication seeks to improve accountability on organic farms with an emphasis on three pillars:

  1. Improve organic matter and healthy soil – this is done through proper land management, composting, no till and other regenerative practices to increase soil health
  2. Animal welfare – happier animals with happier lives through improved animal welfare practices
  3. Farmer and worker fairness – increased economic stability for both employers and employees

The ROC comes in three levels: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. The depth to which you apply practices in the three pillars determines your final certified level.

You can read the full guidelines and framework on ROC here.

Watch this quick video on ROC to get a fast 2 minute overview.

Who Can Apply?

ROC certification is applicable to farmers, livestock operations, agricultural transportation businesses, slaughter facilities, and some food, fiber, or botanical processing facilities.

ROC Requirements

Any applicable business apply for ROC must complete the following to get certified:

  • USDA Organic Certification or an international equivalent recognized by the National Organic Program (NOP) – This is a long process with it’s own pros and cons. You’ll need to maintain this to maintain your ROC.
  • Meet all requirements in the ROC framework document.

Pros Of RA Certification

  • Appeals to consumers aware of RA – Customers rely on Organic labels and are learning to rely on ROC labels
  • Premium prices for products (see section below on comparison of ROC price to organic)
  • Access to new markets domestically and internationally
  • New Funding Sources for RA that go beyond traditional organic funding sources
  • Includes RA benefits that you could get practicing RA without certification (improved soil health and longevity, happier animals, stronger local economies)

Cons Of RA Certification

  • Added time and cost – first you need
  • Ongoing record keeping is daunting
  • California farmers may have additional requirements from the state
  • USDA Organic requires an initial Organic System Plan
  • ROC requires a Regenerative Organic System Plan (ROSP) detailing regenerative organic practices
  • USDA annual fees plus auditing fees – you have to pay for your audits
  • Startup and Annual ROC fees
  • Antibiotics – USDA organic requires you to deny antibiotics to sick animals. This requires organic farms to sell sick animals to non-organic farmers or euthanize them. Even grass-fed cows can get sick.

How Long Does It Take To Get It?

USDA organic certification can take up to 12 weeks after submitting the application and fee.

The ROC doesn’t specify a time frame on their website. However, you should expect at least a similar time frame after completing the application.

The longest time for setup comes from the time limits on farming practices:

  • USDA organic requires no prohibited substances on crops for 3 years prior to using the label (assumes getting certified)
  • USDA organic requires organic practices on dairy livestock for 12 months prior using the label
  • Grass-fed animals must be on pasture the entire seasons or at least 120 days prior to using the label

How Much Does It Cost?

USDA organic certification costs $750 on a sliding scale for initial certification plus ongoing audit fees. Some of these fees can be reclaimed through a USDA cost share program.

ROC fees require an initial application fee that ranges from $350 to $750. This is followed by annual fees that vary depending on farm size. Annual fees range from $200 up to $100,000.

See detailed their website for Startup and Annual ROC fees as well as some example brands and farms and what they have to pay. Farm fees are different from brand fees.

Can You Charge More With RA Certification?

Potentially but this is a big unknown. We discuss a study below showing that organic labelled products have profits that are 22-25% higher than their traditional counterparts (1).

But what happens when you add Rain Forest Alliance labels versus Fair Trade versuse ROC labels for that matter? Can you charge more or do customers just get confused?

To date no detailed study has been conducted on this.

How Do Organic Farmers Feel About It?

Feelings are mixed. Currently organic farming only accounts for less than 5% of total agriculture.

There’s serious concerns that splintering just causes division in a cause that’s still getting it’s roots.

Other organic ranchers prefer the potential new standards. If you’re a small ranch if you want to go organic you have to use organic slaughter houses. What if your provider is too small and doesn’t want to pay for the organic certification.

Then USDA organic doesn’t help even if that’s how you raise your livestock.

This problem doesn’t go away with ROC which still requires initial USDA organic certification.

Will Customers Pay and Do They Want ROC? “Show Me the Money”

So do customers pay more for ROC certified meat and produce versus Organic certified?

We don’t know.

Ideally an in-depth economic analysis would compare organic products with the label sold vs organic products that don’t use the label. That study has never been done.

A study of organic profits vs traditional found that profits were 22 – 25% higher for organic sellers (1).

To date it appears no study has been done comparing organic certified and labeled sellers to uncertified organic sellers let alone ROC to non-ROC.

We even did some research into the various coffee labels to find a study there. Rain Forest Alliance Certifed versus Fair Trade versus Organic. Again, no in-depth economic study could be found.

So will it help? Scan below to see how Three Sister’s farm was able to increase sales even without certification.

How to Bypass RA Certification – A Lesson from the Grateful Dead

In the 1960s big name brands like the Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin were selling albums like hotcakes.

The Grateful Dead felt they had no way to break into that world. So they invented their own way.

The focused on live events. They encouraged their fans to film and tape their shows and pass those along. They also built their own ticketing system. This allowed them to give their fans first pick of the best seats encouraging loyalty to their brand.

In short, they put their small fan base first and that fan base grew. They chose a memorable name of their own that soon became an iconic powerhouse.

Three Sisters Farm in Pennsylvania decided to forgo getting USDA organic certified yet maintain their dedication to farming to improve the earth. Three Sisters is not only organic it also practices regenerative agriculture. Like the Grateful Dead they built a strong local fan base marketing through CSAs, local farmer’s markets, and selling to local restaurants.

Their customers know they grow organic and use regenerative practices to improve soil health, increase topsoil, and enhance social fairness.

They don’t use the USDA organic label because they don’t need it. They stayed local and from that grew strong. This is exactly what the Grateful Dead did with their initial support base in San Francisco.

This isn’t to bash the ROC process or the Rodale Institute for coining the term. Organic labels work great if you want to go big and sell through big outlets like Walmart, Whole Foods, and other national retailers. RA farmers should do this and get the word out. The more RA farms the better.

As the UN says, we only have 60 years left of traditional farming before our soils go bust (2). Whether you go ROC or not, it’s time to go RA and start building that soil back.

References

  1. https://www.pnas.org/content/112/24/7611
  2. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/