The Farmed Smart Story
The Farmed Smart program is the product of a group of progressive thinkers in the Pacific Northwest that included farmers, conservation leaders, university researchers, environmental interests and regulators. Each member of the initial team had a desire to find a way for the most innovative and environmentally sound producers to differentiate themselves from other farms that had chosen not to use conservation farming practices.
The project team worked for 2 years developing a set of dry land agriculture criteria that follow the spirit of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service practice standards, but put a suite of practices in place at one time to ensure whole farm adoption. Setting a high standard of regenerative agriculture practices on each farm was the goal in an effort to provide transparency to the consumer and end user of their food production practices.
Follow the timeline below to see the progress that's been made.
The diverse project team worked for nearly two years to develop a set of criteria that could both be achieved on the farm, yet held each operation to a very high conservation and environmental standard.
The criteria are backed by USDA NRCS practice standards, but are set to gradients that allow for flexibility on the farm to achieve certification in multiple ways that lead to very high levels of conservation adoption.
Criteria evaluate the amount of tillage done on the farms, requires the use of precision application equipment and Integrated Pest Management plans. It builds a system of water quality protection through the use of buffers along streams and surface water sources on farms and protects wildlife by providing additional habitat on farms.
The program continues to evolve and is currently developing criteria for irrigated agriculture, row crops, and other sectors of agriculture that will follow in the footsteps of the founding project team and set a high conservation ethic within each sector.
The Audit Process
The Farmed Smart program takes great pride in the development of a robust on-the-farm auditor program. The initial project team envisioned a program that would put experienced auditors to work with farmers to evaluate the farming practices being used on the farm and to rank them based on the program criteria and their level of adoption.
This is the foundation of the program today and provides absolute transparency to the process ensuring that regenerative practices are being used on the farms. Each farm is certified for a three year period with periodic field checks occurring on a random basis. Re-certification occurs at the three year anniversary of their certification.
Each auditor is trained to consistently evaluate the program criteria across all farms and is well versed in agriculture in the region they work. They summarize the findings of their field visit, run NRCS erosion models on each farm, and score them based on the gradient scale established for each criteria. If the producer receives enough points in each area (Water Quality, Air Quality, Soil Quality, Wildlife Habitat, Energy Conservation, and Economic Sustainability) and greater than 70% of the total available points, they are certified Farmed Smart.
The Farmed Smart program set a very high standard in each resource area. The project team felt that this high standard was achievable on a large scale in the region. They felt the program could be held above other programs and efforts in the region that were focused on band-aid approaches and singular conservation practices aimed at fixing environmental issues on farms.
The reality is that regulators and other environmental interests focus on one or two practices that can immediately impact and change water quality and other environmental issues that are seen in watersheds. Farmed Smart chose to work toward a higher standard which is to adopt a whole-farm approach to conservation adoption. The hope was that by implementing a stringent suite of practices across the farm, that certified producers would be recognized as being good stewards of the natural resources and be held above other operations that are more focused on that singular approach.
The Program achieved the highest level of conservation recognition thought possible at the time by the founding members. In July 2016, the then Director of the Washington State Department of Ecology, Maia Bellon signed an MOU with the Farmed Smart Program granting any farm that achieves Certification "Safe Harbor" from the state Water Pollution Control Act. More specifically, the agreement states "the Washington State Department of Ecology will not take or pursue formal enforcement actions, including order or penalties, authorized by the State Water Pollution Control Act."
This agreement is in place today and adds a level of environmental certainty and integrity to the program that few others have achieved in the United States much less thought possible. The Washington State Department of Ecology has been at the table participating in the development of the program from the beginning and is a major partner to the farmers and other organizations that are part of Farmed Smart. This unlikely partnership is a true testament to the dedication of everyone involved in the process that desired to see sincere efforts put forth in the Ag Industry to work with their environmental partners.