Ecological Outcome Verification Helps Farmers Regenerate Land

Looking into the Savory Institute’s EOV Program

As environmental sustainability becomes increasingly important to businesses and consumers, more farmers are looking to present evidence of the positive environmental outcomes of their agricultural practices. As part of our ongoing Regenerative Programs and Incentives Feasibility Study, the Organic Council of Ontario (OCO) wants to help you understand Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV), the ecosystem assessment methodology developed by the Savory Institute. Read on as we explore how the Savory Institute is using EOV to promote regenerative practices, how they are collaborating with farmers to regenerate land, and what members of Ontario’s agricultural sector can learn from the EOV methodology. 

What is Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV)?

The Savory Institute is a global not-for-profit organization that aims to regenerate the world’s grasslands. With a network of 47 regional hubs around the world, including one in the Northwest Territories and one in the works in Manitoba, Savory’s goal has been the widespread adoption of Holistic Management (HM). HM began as a method for planned grazing but now extends beyond the management of livestock and into the ecological and economic factors that influence the regeneration of farms, the economic resilience of farmers and the nutrients in the food they grow.

On their journey to educate and train farmers around the world, the Savory Institute realized that producers and brands were looking for a way to collaborate and share their HM-based ecological successes in the marketplace. Having formed an academic consortium with The Nature Conservancy, Texas A&M, Michigan State University, The University of Sydney, and Ovis 21 in 2014, the Savory Institute and their partners created a verification system that could measure a variety of ecosystem health attributes, that could do so without the use of expensive tools and machinery, and that could be used globally. The result is the Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV), an outcomes-based methodology for measuring the positive short and long-term results of the impacts of regenerative practices on biodiversity, soil health and ecosystem functions. EOV does not prescribe any particular production system or land management methods, so it is open to a wide variety of farmers looking to demonstrate their regenerative outcomes. 

How does the EOV methodology work?

The foundation of EOV is its sensitivity to the conditions of the land. Farms that express interest in participating are visited by one of the Savory Institute’s accredited Regional Hub Verifiers to gain an understanding of the characteristics of the land and its potential. EOV and its staff use Level III ecoregion maps to understand the biodiversity of flora, fauna and environments that characterize the ecological region that a participating farm is in. After understanding the ecoregion and accounting for the influence of past land management decisions and other human activity, the accredited verifiers are responsible for choosing a reference area to which participating land will be compared. Reference areas are the closest example of the desired future land outcomes in a particular environment and therefore serve as a benchmark. 

Level III Ecoregion Maps of North America

The accredited verifier sets up monitoring sites around the plot, determines the ecological context and baseline of the plot based on what is possible in the local area and establishes an Evaluation Scorecard for the land. The Scorecard is based on a number of relevant ecological indicators that determine whether land is being regenerated.

The program provides farmers with continuous monitoring and assessment of their land’s ecological outcomes as well as training and support in land management. 

Short-term Monitoring

Monitoring occurs every year of participation in the program and includes indicators that measure:

  • live canopy abundance 
  • living organisms 
  • vigour and reproduction of contextually desirable functional groups
  • contextually desirable/undesirable species
  • plant litter & litter incorporation
  • dung decomposition
  • bare soil
  • soil capping
  • wind and water erosion
  • forage quantity and quality
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is EOVMeasuring-300x200.jpgEcological Outcome Verification seal approaches market readiness | New Hope  Network
Examples of short and long term monitoring methods.

Long-term Monitoring

Occurs every five years and includes the above indicators as well as others dedicated to ecosystem processes, biodiversity, and soil health and composition such as:

  • bare ground and litter cover
  • foliar cover of perennial plants by species
  • canopy cover percentage
  • water infiltration
  • soil carbon
  • species richness
  • soil equivalent fixed mass
  • soil biology and organic matter using the Haney test and Cornell University’s Standard Soil Health Analysis Package

The program is ultimately looking for positive trends in the improvement of ecological indicators above. 

Farmers that achieve positive trends towards successfully regenerating their land are included on the Savory Institute’s Verified Regenerative Supplier Roster (coming soon), which lets buyers know that they are investing in sustainable farming. Farmers on the Roster can also take advantage of the optional Land to Market label program, which connects meat, dairy, wool and leather farmers with buyers, brands, retailers, and consumers who want to reward farmers for their positive environmental outcomes.

There are other benefits to producers even if their trends are not positive. The program provides continuous scientific data, which can serve as feedback for producers looking to improve their land use and management decisions. Producers gain access to the Savory Global EOV Data Platform, where data, comments, management plans and results are uploaded to help with management decisions. Farmers are given the opportunity to receive quick and inexpensive training, coaching and support from the Savory Institute’s regional experts. This empowers farmers to monitor their own environmental outcomes on the path to sustainability.

What can members of Ontario’s organic sector learn from the Savory Institute’s EOV? 

Members of Ontario’s agricultural sector should take note of three aspects of the EOV methodology. The first is that, as of now, EOV is designed to apply to pasture-based systems only. While the Savory Institute intends to expand the EOV to include crops, and is exploring the integration of livestock on solar farms, there is still some work and time ahead before these projects are fully realized. The focus on livestock should also be noted as it may create a unique situation for Canadian dairy producers, due to the national dairy supply management system. Finally, as with all such regenerative programs, farmers should carefully consider the costs of participation. While the Savory Institute has designed the EOV to be as cost-friendly as possible, participation in EOV or Land to Market can often favor those producers who are already part of robust supply chains managed by corporations willing to subsidize regenerative program enrolment to achieve sustainability and climate footprint goals. 

Still, the sector can look forward to seeing the potential benefits of EOV closer to home, as some Ontario producers along with Holistic Management Canada are working towards establishing a reference plot in the province, which would enable producers to be verified to the program. Interested Ontario farmers can take heed of the potential for this program to help producers, small and large, measure and communicate their ecologically beneficial land management practices to their customers.

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