By Tom Driscoll, Director of Conservation Policy and NFU Foundation

Environmental markets, in addition to being science based, quantifiable, innovative, and permanent, will have to offer farmers adequate incentives to adopt new conservation practices. Cases in which a single practice achieves more than one quantifiable environmental benefit, verifiably reducing more than one pollutant, payments for credits created in more than one market may help amass the value needed to deploy climate-smart practices at beneficial scale.

For example, many climate-smart practices also offer water quality benefits, meaning it may be considerably beneficial to involve farmers in efforts to address both climate change and water quality. In March 2017, the Coalition for Agricultural Greenhouse Gasses (C-AGG) and the National Network on Water Quality Trading (NNWQT) hosted a workshop exploring the possibility of integrating GHG and water quality markets. The workshop uncovered several helpful observations. In some instances, like in the case of COMET-Farm, existing technology can be modified slightly to accommodate both water quality and GHG markets.

But combining these markets also carries significant challenges. Water quality markets are limited in geographic scope; farmers can’t participate unless they operate in a watershed that needs improvement. The two markets also have differing needs for permanence. The metrics and rules for water quality trading aren’t as clear as they are for carbon markets. At this time, there is federal policy for driving water quality improvement, but not for cutting GHG emissions.

Currently, the stacking or bundling of water quality credits with associated carbon credits is being tested in the Ohio River Basin Water Quality Trading Program. Hopefully in the future, other projects will try this as well; the workshop participants determined that the process of stacking water quality and GHG reduction markets still requires proof of concept. Climate Column readers will also be pleased to hear the workshop participants identified greater involvement of the farming community as a priority in this work. Additionally, there are other environmental benefits that could be pursued through integrated markets, including biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and pollinator health.

Would you consider participating in environmental markets that pursue multiple benefits? Are there climate-smart or water quality-driven practices you could take on your farm if there was adequate financial incentive? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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