Ecosystem Services Market Consortium
Our Mission: To advance ecosystem service markets that incentivize farmers and ranchers to improve soil health systems that benefit society.
Executive Director Update
Interest in climate smart agriculture has never been higher, but it probably has not peaked. There was a time in the late 90s where biological sinks were of great interest in the global climate change world, but a relative lack of data on terrestrial sinks (soil carbon sinks in particular) relegated the discussion to a research agenda until 2015. In 2015, it became apparent that terrestrial climate sinks are imperative to fight climate change. We are no longer in a situation where we can or should debate their relevance: scientists agree we must maximize biological carbon removals as well as other removals, while also maximizing GHG emissions reductions from all sources, including from agriculture.
As scientists and others increasingly focus on the role of natural climate solutions in mitigating climate change, agricultural working lands will receive increased attention as a climate change solution. Agriculture is both a source and sink of GHG. USEPA estimates that agriculture accounts for 9.9% of US annual GHG emissions (USEPA 2018). However, agriculture and forestry are also significant carbon sinks – together offsetting approximately 12% of total US GHG emissions (USEPA 2018). While forestry and forest soils account for the lion’s share of that carbon sequestration, cropland soils share in that role.
Improved soil carbon sequestration improves agricultural resilience by reducing soil erosion from wind and water, and by improving water holding capacity and resistance to drought. ESMC and our partners share a mission to scale improved soil health and soil carbon and to reduce GHG in a voluntary market that recognizes and pays farmers for their ecosystem services. Payments for ecosystem services will help farmers and ranchers, but they are just one tool in the financial toolbox. While demand for agricultural ecosystem services continues to increase, we anticipate that price discovery will show increased prices for these services, as well. One day the true valuation of natural climate solutions and ecosystem services from agriculture may be reflected in market signals.
Until then, we will continue to work with our members, partners, and stakeholders to refine our market program to meet current demand. Demand today in ESMC’s market is mostly from the food and beverage sector, enabling companies to report Scope 3 carbon removals and reductions from the agricultural supply chain.
Other industries for whom agriculture is part of their supply chains will also be interested in our work. Industries such as fabric and textiles (cotton, hemp), transportation (biofuels), heavy manufacturing (oils and lubricants), and the paper industry (starches) all include agricultural production in their Scope 3 supply chains. And ESMC can help meet their commitments to reduce these Scope 3 footprints.
Water risk reporting – including for water quality and water use conservation – remains a work in progress, with reporting requirements and standards still undefined, though ESMC is testing reporting outcomes to meet current corporate reporting needs.
We are also working with Gold Standard on our voluntary carbon offset methodology, which, once approved, will allow the generation and sale of voluntary carbon market credits from agriculture. We fully anticipate that market demand to grow and are poised to help meet increased demand from US agriculture.
We thank our members, partners, and stakeholders for your continued support as we collectively endeavor to make the world a better, more resilient place to live. Our focus remains on creating the tools and opportunities and financial ability for farmers and ranchers to help us collectively meet our goals, commitments, and obligations. Knowing that the agricultural sector is increasingly in the crosshairs of erratic and severe weather and markets, financial and economic approaches to enable and scale ecosystem services from agriculture become significantly more attractive, and important, to achieving necessary impact.
We look forward to your continued collaboration in this important endeavor.
Debbie and the ESMC Team
ESMC Announces New Producer Circle Members
In July 2020, ESMC announced a cohort of farmers and ranchers from across the United States as the inaugural cohort of Producer Circle members. The Producer Circle is vitally important to provide farmer and rancher input while pilot testing ESMC’s innovative protocols and the technical assistance, verification, and certification requirements in preparation for full market launch in 2022.
ESMC added six additional producers in August 2020 to ensure representation across all regions of the country. More opportunities for farmers and ranchers to become involved in the Producer Circle efforts will be introduced as the ESMC program expands. The newly appointed Producer Circle members are Britton Blair from South Dakota, Gene Lollis from Florida, Jim Faulstich from South Dakota, Lee McDaniel from Maryland, Trey Hill from Maryland, and Tyler Stafslien from North Dakota.
ESMC received support from the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) to launch the Producer Circle, ensuring that the voices of farmers and ranchers across the country are heard during the ESMC program buildout. ESMC’s first operating principle is to be producer-centric, meaning a market-based approach must work first and foremost for farmers and ranchers to achieve desired ecosystem service impacts. The Producer Circle will serve as an in-house focus group and advisory committee on aspects of program delivery, including development of outreach materials, pilot, and protocol development and program operations.
Producer Circle Spotlight – Tim Palmer, Palmer Farms
Forty years ago, ESMC Producer Circle Co-Chair Tim Palmer began farming with his dad. Tim has continued the family operation growing corn, soybeans, oats, and hay on his farm near Truro, Iowa, in addition to raising beef cattle to market. Palmer, a second-generation farmer, and his wife Shelly and their sons Geoff and Greg, utilize conservation practices extensively to improve water quality and soil health. Palmer’s farm includes terraces, waterways, filter strips, and ponds, and he utilizes rotational grazing with his cattle herd.
Elected as president of the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) in 2019 and having served on the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District’s board since 2003, Palmer has held leadership positions at NACD for more than a decade. According to Palmer, conservation programs that are developed around local needs allow farmers to determine the program that best fits their operation. Even the national programs are built to be implemented at the local level versus a broad, national government mandate. Read the remainder of this spotlight on ESMC’s website.
ESMC + Partners Announce Official Climate Week NYC Webinar:
Scaling Climate Friendly Agriculture: Economics 101
Participants from ADM, the IL Corn Growers Association, an IL corn and soy farmer, and ESMC will describe an ESMC project in Illinois to generate quantified, verified, certified GHG emissions and improved water impacts from agriculture at a Climate Week NYC webinar. The project will generate soil carbon, net GHG, and water quality assets to meet corporate reporting requirements and improve agricultural resilience. Participants will focus on the economics of climate smart agriculture – particularly given the current farm economy – and how ESMC and partners seek to scale climate impact and improve farmer returns. Webinar participants will be among the more than 50 members of ESMC. The ESMC + Partners Climate Week NYC webinar is Friday 25 September 2020, from 1:00-2:30 pm ET. To register, click on the Climate Week NYC link.
ESMC is Hiring a Policy Director
ESMC seeks to recruit and hire a talented Policy Director as part of our growing and dynamic team to develop and implement a strategic policy platform for ESMC. The policy platform will support a flourishing, viable, voluntary, and private market for ecosystem services that pays farmers and ranchers for their impacts. As part of this work, the Policy Director will identify and prioritize national and state rules and regulations that can support or hinder the development of robust ecosystem markets for the agricultural sector, one component of which includes the advancement of soil health. For more information on this position and application requirements, visit ESMC's website.
ESMC Welcomes Bruce Knight to the Board of Directors
ESMC is pleased to announce that Bruce Knight has joined the 7-member ESMC Board of Directors. Knight is the Principal and Founder of Strategic Conservation Solutions, which previously served as a consultant to ESMC. He is a nationally recognized expert on conservation, agriculture, and the environment. Knight was the Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from 2006-2009. From 2002 to 2006, he served as Chief of NRCS. A third-generation rancher and farmer and lifelong conservationist, Knight operates a diversified grain and cattle operation using no-till and rest rotation grazing systems. His farming and ranching background gives him the opportunity to practice stewardship and husbandry, providing firsthand knowledge of the interdependency of animal, plant, and human health with the environment.
ESMC in the News
USDA Agriculture Innovation Agenda Comments: An article in AgriPulse highlights ESMC’s comments on how climate should be a key focus of the USDA's Agriculture Innovation Agenda. Commenting on the Agenda, ESMC’s Debbie Reed noted that the USDA twin goals (increase U.S. agricultural production by 40% while cutting agriculture’s environmental footprint in half) are broadly supported in the agriculture and food sector, but to achieve that, USDA needs to standardize the way it collects data. Reed noted that within USDA, “there are multiple GHG quantification and water quality models preferred for different uses and by different agencies. Rather than making USDA data available for only certain USDA and other tools or models, USDA should make data available for all users and all quantification models, and should standardize the way the data is collected and publicly shared to ensure that publicly-funded actions benefit the broadest potential audience of users working to benefit the agricultural sector constituency.”
NCAT Webinar Payments for Ecosystem Services: On August 6, ESMC’s Debbie Reed presented at a webinar on Payments for Ecosystem Services Part II ~ Carbon Markets and Credit Stacking hosted by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). The webinar recording is now available online for viewing
First "4 per 1000" Initiative North America Regional Meeting Report: ESMC’s Debbie Reed participated in a roundtable presentation at the 4 per 1000 Initiative’s first North American meeting May 11 – 15, 2020. The meeting report was released this month and includes a synopsis of the presentation: A Public Private-Partnership with US Agriculture Supply Chain & Value Chain and Q&A in Session 5.
ESMC Member News
ARPA-E Announces $16.5 Million for Technologies Supporting the Biofuels Supply Chain
ESMC Founding Circle member Soil Health Institute and ESMC Technical Contractor Dagan, Inc., have been awarded Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy funding as part of the Systems for Monitoring and Analytics for Renewable Transportation Fuels from Agricultural Resources and Management (SMARTFARM) program. Soil Health Institute will receive $3.25 million to develop an integrated soil carbon measurement and monitoring system called the DeepC System, which will provide standardized carbon sequestration monitoring needs for carbon markets in agriculture. Dagan, Inc. will receive $1.84 million to build, validate, and demonstrate an integrated system for reliable and cost-effective measurement of field-level soil carbon and N2O emissions. Read the full announcement here.
General Mills Believes Farmers Have a Massive Role to Play in Solving Climate Change
In a recent article in Successful Farming, Kevin O’Donnell, Global Director, Sourcing & Operations Sustainability at General Mills, highlights how General Mills is working to reduce its absolute GHG emissions by 28% across the entire value chain by 2025 (compared to 2010). General Mills is an ESMC Founding Circle member. “Agriculture is often fingered as a major culprit in climate change,” says O’Donnell. “We strongly believe farmers have a massive role to play in being a part of the solution. In fact, we don't believe the world can adequately address climate change – and hit the targets it has set in order to avoid the most catastrophic and volatile impacts of climate change – without engaging agriculture.” Read the full interview here.
Kellogg Grant Expands Illinois Conservation Program Supporting Farmers to Adapt to Climate Change, Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
As part of Kellogg's Better Days commitment to support 1 million farmers by the end of 2030, the company is collaborating with ESMC Founding Circle member The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to expand the Saving Tomorrow's Agriculture Resources (S.T.A.R.) initiative in Illinois. Thanks to a grant from Kellogg, 50 additional farmers managing more than 31,000 acres of Illinois farmland used S.T.A.R. to limit erosion, improve water quality, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions on their farm since 2019. TNC provided on the ground support to help farmers adopt climate-smart agriculture practices. Read the full announcement here.
TFI Announces International Governing Body for 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program
ESMC Legacy Partner member The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) announced the formation of an international governing body for the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program – the Global Nutrient Stewardship Certification Council (NSCC). The NSCC is composed of representatives from TFI, Fertilizer Canada, and TNC, who will guide interested parties in the implementation of a 4R Certification program in their region. Read the full announcement here.
Measures of Soil Nitrogen Cycling Webinar
ESMC Legacy Partner member, Soil Science Society of America, is hosting a free webinar on the Measures of Soil Nitrogen Cycling on September 17. ESMC Founding Circle member Soil Health Institute will explain measurements and assessments of soil health associated with soil-nitrogen dynamics. Read the full announcement here.
Cornell Atkinson Postdoctoral Fellowship in Sustainability
ESMC Legacy Partner member Cornell Atkinson seeks outstanding, creative, and highly motivated individuals to work with Cornell faculty in collaboration with external organizations and communities to discover and implement sustainable solutions to world needs through a Postdoctoral Fellowship. The opportunity will stimulate original cross-disciplinary research and the development of sustainable solutions by developing and deepening connections with external partners. Read the full announcement here.
Look for ESMC at . . .
Society of Environmental Journalists Virtual Workshop - Agriculture & Climate
This two-hour virtual workshop on September 30 will take a deep dive into regenerative agriculture as part of the solution set that can help address climate change while providing a broad array of additional benefits to people and the environment. A diverse group of experts, including ESMC’s Debbie Reed, will lead an exploration of the various perspectives on regenerative agriculture, from science to economics to indigenous intelligence. Read more here.
The VERGE 20 event, online from October 26 – 30, includes 15,000 clean economy leaders—from the private and public sectors, utilities, solution providers, investors, and startups—advancing systemic solutions to address the climate crisis through five key markets: carbon removal, the circular economy, clean energy, electrified transportation and sustainable food systems. ESMC’s Debbie Reed will be a panelist discussing How to Scale Regenerative Agriculture and Draw Down Carbon and will be speaking at 12 pm on Tuesday, October 27. Read more here.
. . . Online!
Our ESMC team continues its active work in addressing goals and priorities of the ESMC. Please let us know if we can assist with requests for virtual presentations or other questions to be addressed. Stay up-to-date on ESMC happenings at our website and follow us on social media. We are active on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as @MarketEcosystem, @EcosystemServicesMarketConsortium and Ecosystem Services Market Consortium, respectively.
Other News of Note
Farm Bureau’s Presidential Candidate Questionnaire
For the past 40 years, Farm Bureau has asked every presidential candidate to provide responses to issues likely to impact and affect farmers and ranchers and rural communities in the next four years. Both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have provided their answers. The responses have been unedited and are shared in the same style that they were provided to Farm Bureau. Read the responses here.
As Wildfires Grow More Intense, Iconic Western Forests May Not Come Back
NPR (September 13)
After a quick hike off a steep dirt road, forest ecologist Marin Chambers stands surrounded by grasses, shrubs and blackened bare trees. This is part of where the Hayman fire—until last month, Colorado's largest in recorded history—burned northwest of Colorado Springs back in 2002. These 18-square miles burned hot and fast in a single day, driven by how dense the forest was because of past fire suppression, high winds and extreme drought. Now, nearly two decades later, something you'd normally see after a wildfire is missing: new trees. High-severity fires leave behind massive burn areas with almost nothing alive. And any baby trees simply can't thrive in the increased heat and drought brought on by climate change. Read the full article here.
USDA Makes New Move in Broad Effort to Bring Innovative Tech to America’s Farmers
NextGov (September 11)
With sights set on significantly expanding farm production while reducing the field’s environmental footprint over the next decades, the Agriculture Department is looking to learn more about the most innovative, “ready-to-go” technologies and approaches that can be quickly unleashed across the U.S. agriculture landscape. The farm-focused agency invites public- and private-sector players to weigh in via a request for information and confirmed that responses will inform a “comprehensive U.S. agriculture innovation technology strategy” that USDA intends to develop for its customer-facing programs. Read the full article here.
Can Loans Tied to Soil Health Save Agriculture? A New $250 Million Fund Wants to Find Out.
Forbes (September 11)
America’s soil health is in dire straits and a new investment fund, rePlant Capital, has been formed to help clove the crisis with capitalism by tying interest rates for farm loans to improvements in soil’s carbon and water storage as a way to save farmers from the disastrous impacts of climate change. Based in Boulder, Colorado and Oakland, rePlant will deploy $250 million to farmers transitioning to regenerative or organic practices, with about $200 million of that going towards loans based on soil health metrics. Read the full article here.
Diversifying Crops Can Cut Emissions and Increase Profits
Greenbiz (September 11)
On around seven out of every ten Corn Belt acres, growers alternate between just two crops: corn and soybean. These industrial-sized, two-crop rotations are hyper-efficient—this region has helped U.S. agriculture to increase yields over the past half-century without using more land. The flip side is environmental costs: big declines in local biodiversity and high greenhouse gas emissions. Marsden Farm in Iowa is different. Since 2001, Iowa State University researchers have been using the 22-acre site to study what happens when other crops are added to the mix. Read the full article here.
Ag Banks, Regulators Need to Assess Climate Risks, CFTC Panel Says
AgriPulse (September 9)
Ag bankers and federal regulators should conduct stress tests to assess the financial risks of climate change, which poses a major threat to U.S. agriculture, says a new report released by a Commodity Futures Trading Commission commissioner. “There is general agreement that climate change will reduce average yields and total production for most crops in most regions,” the report says, adding that “climate change is impacting, and is projected to impact, not only commercial agriculture in the United States, but also the ecological systems and biodiversity that agricultural systems rely on for everything from the provision of clean water to healthy forests." Read the full article here.
USDA Seeks Nominations for the Task Force on Agricultural Air Quality Research
USDA (September 8)
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the invitation for nominations of qualified candidates to be considered for a two-year term on the USDA Task Force on Agricultural Air Quality Research. The Task Force advises the Secretary on air quality and its relationship to agriculture based on sound scientific findings and review of research on agricultural air quality supported by federal agencies. Read the full article here.
How Agricultural Lenders Can Boost Climate Resilience
EDF (September 1)
Farmers in the U.S. currently face severe challenges including poor economic conditions, extreme weather related to climate change, and disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. These risks also impact farmers’ financial partners, including agricultural lenders. A new report from EDF—Financing resilient agriculture: How agricultural lenders can reduce climate risk and help farmers build resilience—describes climate risks to the agricultural lending sector and provides a path forward for lenders to support a more resilient agricultural system. Read and download the report here.
USDA Extends Signup Deadline for New Conservation Pilot Program in Prairie Pothole Region
USDA (August 26)
The USDA is extending the deadline to November 20, 2020, for the Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP), a new pilot program that enables farmers to receive payments for planting perennial cover for conservation use for three to five years. Signup opened March 30, 2020, for the pilot program which is part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and available to producers in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Read the full article here.
The Man Who Saved the Nation From One of the Worst Environmental Disasters in History
5820 (September 2020)
On Friday, April 19, 1935, Hugh Bennett entered Room 333 in a U.S. Senate office building in Washington, D.C., and seated himself at a conference table alongside members of the congressional subcommittee for public lands and surveys. Bennett, 54, directed the Soil Erosion Service, a division established by the U.S. Department of the Interior two years earlier, and he’d been invited to testify about the erosion problem on American farms. Congress had been deliberating House Resolution 7054, which would fund a national soil conservation service, managed under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Bennett was there to tell the senators why the resolution needed to pass immediately. Read the full article here.