FFAR Joins Consortium to Establish Ecosystem Markets for Agriculture

Ecosystem Services Market Consortium rewards farmers for climate-smart farming methods

WASHINGTON (November 19, 2019) – Climate change is threatening food security and farmer livelihoods, however, implementing climate-smart farming practices that reduce emissions will help farmers thrive—not just survive. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) contributed $10.3 million to the Ecosystem Services Market Research Consortium (ESMRC) to establish a $20 million research arm for the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium, an innovative collaboration that is creating a functional ecosystem services market that will launch and be fully operational in 2022. The ecosystems market will pay and recognize farmers and ranchers who adopt conservation management practices that improve soil health and water usage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; this research consortium will provide the research necessary to create a scaled, efficient, cost-effective marketplace that works for farmers and ranchers.

The agriculture sector accounts for roughly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, through an ecosystem services market, agriculture can mitigate up to 89 percent of its emissions by incentivizing farming practices that sequester carbon in the soil. According to the 2018 report from the New Climate Economy: The next 2-3 years are a critical window to make an impact on climate change. The report recommends several priorities that need immediate action, including carbon pricing and private sector involvement. 

ESMRC, the research arm of the Consortium, was formed to advance research that supports an ecosystem services market that incentivizes farmers and ranchers to improve on-farm production practices. The Research Consortium delivers a partner-driven framework that will catalyze the creation of the national ESM program and convene experts to enhance the economic and environmental resilience of our food supply.

“Farmers and agriculture can be a constructive force in reversing climate change and preserving natural resources.  Farmers are the largest group of land stewards and when they implement climate-smart practices, it helps us all,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Sally Rockey. “I expect this consortium to be at the center of creating new value for these practices and bringing that value back to the farmers who are so deserving to be compensated for their good work. FFAR is thrilled to be the major funder of this unique effort.”

The ESMRC is working to achieve the following objectives:

  • Establish a functioning ESM protocol for ecosystem services (carbon, water quality and water quantity)
  • Identify agricultural management system impacts on ecosystem services
  • Develop innovative advanced learning techniques to improve ecosystem services monitoring and quantification
  • Institute an online platform that tracks and quantifies changes in ecosystem services data
  • Standardize data collection
  • Quantify carbon sequestration capacity of agricultural soils

“We are excited and honored to welcome FFAR to the Research arm of the Consortium”, said ESMC’s Executive Director, Debbie Reed. “This public-private partnership is a true win for US farmers and ranchers who will be paid for the services they deliver, and will help scale carbon drawdown. This market will provide the tools, support and buyers to recognize and reward farmers who increase soil carbon sequestration, reduce GHG, and improve water quality and water use conservation. ESMC’s outcomes-based market brings together the collaborators needed to ensure a viable market well into the future.”

Along with measurable improvements to the environment, forming a viable ecosystem services market will benefit farmers and ranchers in several ways. The program will help improve farm management practices that enhance overall operational efficiency in the form of higher yields, increased resiliency to severe climate shifts, and improved water and soil quality.

The intended impact of this effort is to enroll 30 percent of available land in the top four crop regions and top four pasture regions to impact 250 million acres by 2030 and 650 million acres by 2050 in outcomes-based conservation practices.

“As a sixth-generation Kansas farmer, increasing soil health and resiliency has always been important to my family and me,” said Charles Atkinson, an American Soybean Association Board member who raises soybeans with his father and son on 1,000 acres in Southeast Kansas near Columbus. “We applaud FFAR’s funding to ESMC to develop a market to pay producers for conservation practices we establish on our land to sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gases and increase water quality and quantity. The research to be conducted with FFAR’s support is a critical part of the equation in making ecosystem markets successful.”

FFAR’s contribution to ESMC adds to contributions made by the Noble Research Institute, General Mills Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Research Conservation Service and the United Soybean Board.

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About the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC)

The Ecosystem Services Market Consortium LLC was formed in May 2019 and is a subsidiary of the Soil Health Institute. ESMC’s mission is to advance ecosystem service markets that incentivize farmers and ranchers to improve soil health systems that benefit society. ESMC LLC is a member-based organization launching a national scale ecosystem services market for agriculture to recognize and reward farmers and ranchers for their environmental services to society. ESMC members represent the spectrum of the agricultural sector supply chain with whom we are scaling sustainable agricultural sector outcomes, including increased soil carbon, reduced net greenhouse gases, and improved water quality and water use conservation.

Overcoming Water Scarcity

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Agriculture uses 70 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater. FFAR’s 2016-2018 Overcoming Water Scarcity Challenge Area addressed water use efficiency in agriculture by developing water conservation and reuse technologies, improving crop and livestock breeds, creating improved agronomic practices, increasing the social and economic tractability of conservation practices and enhancing the efficacy of Extension services.

FFAR’s Sustainable Water Management Challenge Area builds on earlier work to increase water availability and water efficiency for agricultural use, reduces agricultural water pollution and develops water reuse technologies.

Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms

Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms

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FFAR’s 2016-2018 Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms Challenge Area increased soil health by building knowledge, fueling innovation, and enabling adoption of existing or new innovative practices that improve soil health.

The Soil Health Challenge Area advances existing research and identifies linkages between farm productivity and soil health, while also addressing barriers to the adoption of soil health practices.

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FFAR’s 2016-2018 Protein Challenge Area sought to improve the environmental, economic and social sustainability of diverse proteins.

The Advance Animal Systems challenge area supports sustainable animal production through environmentally sound productions practices and advancement in animal health and welfare. Additionally, the Next Generation Crops Challenge Area develops non-traditional crops, including plant-based proteins, and creates new economic opportunities for conventional crops to increase future crop diversity and farm profitability.

Food Waste and Loss

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About 40 percent of food in the US, or $161 billion each year, is lost or wasted. FFAR’s 2016-2018 Food and Waste Loss Challenge Area addressed the social, economic and environmental impacts from food waste and loss through research that developed of novel uses for agricultural waste, improved storage and distribution, supported tracking and monitoring, minimized spoilage through pre- and post-harvest innovations and changed behaviors to reduce food waste

FFAR’s current Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area addresses food waste and loss and supports innovative, systems-level approaches to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the US and globally.

Forging the Innovation Pathway to Sustainability

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Urban Food Systems

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The 2016-2018 Urban Food Systems Challenge Area addressed feeding urban populations through urban and peri-urban agriculture and augmenting the capabilities of our current food system.

The Urban Food Systems Challenge Area continues this work and enhances our ability to feed urban populations.

Making My Plate Your Plate

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FFAR’s 2016-2018 Making My Plate Your Plate Challenge Area focused on helping Americans meet the USDA 2015 Dietary Guideline recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption, including research to both produce and provide access to nutritious fruits and vegetables.

FFAR’s current Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area supports innovative, systems-level approaches to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the US and globally.