Farming from the Past is the Future

By Mark J Neal

The Regenerative Organic Certification® (ROC) worldwide was the top performer for Agriculture in 2023 according to Spins Marketing with many Sustainability Certified products. This represents the highest growing segment of any farming certificates in 2023. It is important to understand the ROC® name and organization is trademarked, and that vineyards, wineries or producers cannot say that they are farming regenerative organic if they are not certified. This is no different being Biodynamic®- if you’re not certified, you cannot say or use in any form due to trademark infringements.  The integrity of these two farming and wine production methods follows the trademark laws. We have continued to implement our farming methods that are outlined by our three third party certifiers starting in 1984 with CCOF.

The differences between Regenerative Farming and Regenerative Organic Certified® are huge. It’s the difference between being non-organic and Organic Certified. Forecasts have predicted with the current chemical, industrial, sustainable farming practices globally, that within 60 years the topsoil will be depleted. These farming practices contribute up to 25% of the climate crisis emissions currently. With the ROC®; Certified Organic & Biodynamic® organizations worldwide can reverse climate change. Currently only 1.6% of agriculture in the world is organically grown. However, organic and Regenerative Organic is on a fast track driven by supply and demand and customer demand for certified organic and certified Regenerative Organic Certified is growing dramatically. 2024 Spin Marketing Trends Report details consumer predictions with 49% of consumers today are values-oriented shoppers with 8 in 10 values-oriented shoppers stated that animal welfare, environmental welfare, labor/worker welfare, and/or ingredient sourcing was personally important to them. ROC® is the certification that addresses the full spectrum of these values.

“As a leader in Napa Valley, having been certified with CCOF since 1984, and the first ROC in 2022, we have always demonstrated our strong integrity towards saving our planet and all life that depends on it. It’s been my mission and I will continue to educate consumers of all foods of the greenwashing terms that are used in all agriculture throughout the world.”

What it means to be ROC®.

Regenerative Organic Farming practices encompass certified organic farming and then raise the bar.  This program prioritizes soil health & biodiversity to improve and restore soil health as well as fight climate change.  The program is based on sound, proven principles and is a holistic system that calls out and recognizes the interconnectivity between the well-being of the planet as well as everyone and everything that lives on it.  A ROC® grower must document & implement a variety of practices, including (but not limited to) routine soil analysis performed annually at specific locations on the farm to track the slow changes in the soil over time, cover cropping programs to improve soil health, as well as a percentage of the farming operation placed into “no-till” to protect the soil from erosion (wind and water) as well as to sequester carbon in the soil.  The ROC® (and California Certified Organic Farmers, CCOF) grower is inspected every year by trained professionals, both farm and vineyard itself, as well as the documentation.  Individually the practices mentioned above result in small and slow improvements in the soil and the environment. However, when combined, they build off each other, creating feedback loops that are greater than the sum of their parts. This symbiotic approach is far different to the use of synthetic materials, which typically degrade and destroy the health of the soil over time.

Cover crop plantings and “no till” operations build and protect soil organic matter and soil microbial diversity and vitality.  Building or increasing soil organic matter has huge effects (benefits) in agricultural ecosystems.  Small changes in soil organic matter (even quarter-percentage points) improve the water holding capacity 5-10-fold, resulting in decreasing need for supplemental irrigation.  This is a win-win, with less rainfall in drought years as well as limited use of power & energy for the irrigation pumps and labor.  Soil organic matter is the foundation that the agricultural and soil ecosystems are built on.

The second key pillar of the ROC® program is animal welfare and integration into agricultural operations.  Animal welfare is monitored under the “5-freedoms” concept: freedom from hunger or thirst, freedom from discomfort with an appropriate environment/shelter, freedom from pain, injury & disease with prevention and treatment, freedom to allow normal behaviors, with sufficient space in facilities, freedom from fear or distress by ensuring conditions/treatment that avoid suffering.  This includes a strict ban on CAFOs (animal concentration and feeding operations).

The third pillar in the ROC® system is focused on farmworker social fairness, safe working conditions and a balanced conversation regarding the work to be performed, an appropriate living wage and benefits (health) and systems that allow for worker feedback.  This is conducted at each inspection by an independent interview process (in the primary language of the farmworkers) for workers at the site.

These organizations & certifications are truly earned and should not be greenwashed. There is a substantial difference to practicing a process and implementing a process through certification. We do not approve of the term regenerative agriculture or farming since there is no widely accepted definition nor guidelines around using this term in reference to actions or products. Under this you can use synthetic materials.  Stay away from greenwashing terms such as this.

At Neal Family Vineyards and Jack Neal & Son, it’s been impactful to be associated with each of the three certifying groups, CCOF, ROC® and Demeter®, and the strength of their individual integrity.

“In 2023, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) recognized my 40th year working with the program in vineyards in the Napa Valley and my 15th year as a Certified Winery Operation.  I received the first Regenerative Organic in Napa Valley in 2022, when there was only five ROC® certified vineyards in the world at that time. I have been a believer and a doer all my life around organically growing and farming, and became certified as soon as the certification existed.  I have always been “farming in the past” prior to the chemical agricultural era around World War 1 in the early 1900’s (the process to make synthetic nitrogen (Haber Bosch) was invented in 1909).

“Organic and Regenerative Organic is all the “new trend”, putting the supply and demand chain on agriculture throughout the world under a lot of pressure quickly. Consumers are recognizing the benefits to their own well-being as well as the environment, by eating, drinking, and seeking out organic products. Consumers are standing in their grocery store aisle reading labels looking for the best healthiest food available and what impact that product has had on the environment, on people and animals. Meanwhile we are consumed by the media telling us what foods are not safe. As of late, Cheerios and Quaker Oats are a few named. I want to shift the focus to the products that are grown Certified, made certified and name those products so consumers can become aware of the certified companies.”

“Our wines are produced with organic grapes and the wines are organically made. We have three certifications to support this. We are honored to announce the recent scores from Wine Enthusiast, with both 2019 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon at 96pts and Rutherford Dust Vineyards at 97pts. We also received 94pts on our 2021 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.”

We can celebrate the farming methods we implemented for over 58 years and continue to make wines, top scoring wines, under this commitment. Our wines continue to showcase this foundation we have established in Napa Valley that others will follow. We have always wanted our wines to personify our commitment to organic farming at the highest level and believe these achievements are a testament to the quality that can be produced under these farming methods.

“You can make top quality wines, implementing the most certified Organic, Regenerative Organic, and Biodynamic farming methods. Our wines prove this, that farming like the past delivers exceptional wines as we are nourishing the planet that life depends on.”

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