As the science inside the Land to Market Program, EOV™ measures if a landscape is improving or declining in ecosystem function. In layman’s terms, this tracks for regeneration or degeneration on the land, regardless of the strategies that are implemented there.
To appreciate Land to Market’s potential, you have to first understand the science that’s fueling it. A typical certification program helps differentiate products in the marketplace by ensuring some set of rules are followed. Crops need to be rotated, ruminant animals must only be fed grass, tillage isn’t allowed — those types of things. I’ve spent a lot of my career farming in and working for a variety of farm certifications. However, while they are important and can help convey important information in a world where it can be very difficult to know where your food or fiber is coming from, none of the typical programs do much more than convey a set of practices being used.
Land to Market takes a different approach by utilizing Ecological Outcome Verification™ (EOV™). EOV™ is a scientific data collection protocol, not a set of required practices. As the science inside the Land to Market Program, EOV™ measures if a landscape is improving or declining in ecosystem function. In layman’s terms, this tracks for regeneration or degeneration on the land, regardless of the strategies that are implemented there.
So, we are measuring ecosystem health. Sounds straightforward enough, right? Not necessarily. The reality is that measuring outcomes, in ways that are statistically valid and practical across broad landscapes, is challenging and has taken a united global effort to deliver.
The creation of EOV™ by the Savory Institute, through partnerships with multiple universities and a host of individuals in the scientific community, was designed to look at an aggregate of ecosystem function, keep farmers first in our approach, and be relevant across a multitude of landscapes. As one can imagine, it took a great deal of work to compile a protocol that fit the bill and could be deployed consistently to all corners of the globe.
To simplify things, we narrowed down the ecosystem functions to be monitored into four major categories. These are water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow, and community dynamics. The essence of each is:
We sometimes refer to these as four windows into the same room, because each can be thought of as a unique viewpoint into the same ecosystem. They each tell a piece of the ecosystem’s current story and, together, provide a good picture of what is happening on the land.
EOV™ combines a number of procedures to monitor these ecosystem functions. A farmers-first approach means we aren’t just measuring land health to convey to end consumers. The data also needs to be useful for the agrarians working on the ground. As a result, the processes used in EOV™ provide a balance of quick data feedback loops for land managers as well as quantitative measurements of soil health, sequestered carbon, and biodiversity. The quick feedback provides land managers opportunities to adjust and pivot their management decisions proactively. These leading indicators are used to predict changes before they occur and forecast trends in ecosystem health — which we believe gives producers a massive advantage in understanding, and protecting, their land. From there, we couple these variables with lagging indicators for more robust data. Lagging indicators are metrics that confirm long-term trends quantitatively but do not predict them. Essentially, they are less useful for management decisions but they help confirm patterns over time.
For instance, bare soil is the most telling leading indicator. It shows lost potential for all four ecosystem processes. When soil is bare, more water runs off the land, nutrients are not cycled, and the absence of plants means there is no photosynthesis to convert solar energy and no biological presence to enhance community dynamics. So, while soil tests and plant species counts show quantitatively that the land is struggling, increasing levels of bare soil are often the first clear indication of a decline in land health.
Using a combination of leading and lagging indicators for each component of ecosystem function, EOV™ has a set of data collection procedures to assess land health. But to be sure that the data collected around the world can be compared from one unique place to the next, the data is calibrated to the ecoregion where it is located. For context, an ecoregion is an area categorized by distinctive geology, soils, climate, and hydrology. Each contains geographically distinct assemblages of natural communities and species. For a sense of scale, the continental United States is subdivided into 105 different ecoregions. Using existing ecoregion data, assessments of land potential in an ecoregion and the local expertise of people on the ground, we adjust to account for differences between ecoregions. This makes it easier to look at regeneration trends across landscapes and celebrate the successes of good land management around the world.
With all this in mind, it’s easy to see how Ecological Outcome Verification™ leads to a very different kind of program for ranchers and consumers. Unlike many other farm certifications, it is not simply a confirmation of which practices are being used — because even the most carefully selected farm practices don’t guarantee successful results. Moreover, practices used in one location may have very different results in a different region. The positive impacts of this are twofold: For people working the land, the EOV™ data collected has real value by informing whether selected practices are actually accomplishing their intended goals for their land. For consumers, it gives confidence that the products they are buying played a definitive role in healing land by quantifying the changes over time.
I joined the EOV™ team in 2021 after spending many years working in organic and grass-fed certification. I deeply admired the innovative farmers I previously worked with and passionate teams that strove to keep those certifications robust and attainable, but the potential and agrarian empowerment in EOV™ struck a chord with me. I often think of the Peter Kreeft quote that says, “Nature is not blind and dumb. Nature is eloquent. Human science is blind and dumb if it does not hear this eloquence.” For the majority of our history, we lacked the scientific and technological finesse to understand or track the subtle processes happening in the land around us. What an exciting notion it is that we may be ready to make strides towards better interpreting these eloquent systems and use that information to build towards a better world.
– Kelsey Kerston