Savory Institute offers land to market pilot program

Working with the land and improving it is in a rancher’s DNA, but too often those best practices go unnoticed by consumers. What if you could market your good land management?

Are you a good steward of your land? Would you like to see that effort recognized in the market?

The Savory Institute is in the process of on-boarding producers in a pilot project to do just that. The “Land to Market” verification program is an attempt to market management practices that improve the landscape.

“Ranching has such an amazing story to tell that right now isn’t being shared,” Chris Kerston, Savory Institute’s director of public outreach, told WLJ.

“We have all these producers who are doing a good job—better than a good job, they’re doing amazing things on the land—and they don’t have a mechanism to share that with brands who will then share it with consumers. We really wanted to create a facilitation for that.”

The program utilizes the Savory Institute’s protocol of “biological monitoring” developed in the late 1970s. The protocol measures outcomes such as productivity, resiliency, soil health, carbon sequestration, and diversity of wildlife and plant communities.

About five years ago, with the help of several academic institutions, the Savory Institute tried to convert this biological monitoring protocol into a market label program. This produced the Ecological Outcome Verification system that underlies the Land to Market program.

“It’s really about moving away from practices to outcomes,” Kerston said. “Most, if not all, of the certifications that serve the raw material space—i.e., ranchers and farmers—are based on practices. They tell producers, ‘Here’s what you’re allowed to do. Here’s what you’re not allowed to do.’”

He explained that the Land to Market program, using the Ecological Outcome Verification system, gauges individual outcomes from producer to producer.

“You’re compared to yourself and your own performance.”

The process measures two areas: leading indicators and lagging indicators. Leading indicators are short-term things that can be readily observed.

“These are those quick feedback loops that tell you is your plant litter incorporating as fast as it could be? What’s the rate of your dung decomposition? Do you have the plant species that are best for your animal performance?”

Kerston likened leading indicators to key performance indicators that producers can utilize in their management decisions. These are measured annually within the program.

Lagging indicators are longer-term things that are hard to measure. Kerston gave the examples of carbon sequestration, diversity of wildlife and plant communities, and organic matter content in the soil. These indicators are measured every five years. Together with the leading indicators, the measurements are combined into a single Ecological Health Index.

“Your score, year over year can get worse, it can stay the same, or it can get better.”

Those three categories correspond to what the program calls degenerative, sustainable, and regenerative management, respectively. Kerston said the regenerative category is the goal of the program. The Savory Institute has historically advocated for “holistic management,” which is often used interchangeably with “regenerative management.”

“We believe that if the world is going to be fed and clothed with food and fiber, we need that to be coming off of landscapes that are getting better, that are increasing productivity, that are increasing in resilience,” Kerston said.

“That’s what ‘regenerative’ means; you’re getting measurable, net positive results on the land, year over year, without compromising on quality and quantity of products for human use coming off that land.”

Since the measuring process takes a long time, the program has been slow to get established. The program was launched in January last year.

“We’re at a prototype phase,” Kerston said, noting that fewer than 1,000 producers across all livestock species have gone through the verification process thus far.

“But we have reached a critical mass and we want to move forward into that ‘go to market’ phase of the prototype,” he added.

Kerston said that producers who are interested in the Land to Market verification program should contact their local Savory Institute hub or visit the website.

“First and foremost, the value proposition for ranchers is, by doing this, you can increase your production, you can get better and more efficient at what you’re doing,” Kerston said.

“Agriculture as a whole can solve a lot of society’s problems, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the burden on the producer to do that. They need to be incentivized. They need to have the right market pieces in place to be able to do that the way that society needs. But I do think that agriculture, when done properly, is humanity’s best hope.” — Kerry Halladay, WLJ editor

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