Minnesota Pilot Project Launched to Increase Farmer Participation in Ecosystem Services Markets

Sustainable Agriculture Conservation partners standing in a no-till farm field in Stearns County, Minnesota. © Jason Whalen / Fauna Creative

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The Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) announce the first-of-its-kind pilot project in Minnesota to provide financial incentives to encourage more farmers to implement practices that help improve soil health, store carbon in soils, and reduce nutrient run-off from farm fields. The project will test and streamline the creation and sale of environmental credits from farmland.

Project partners will work with farmers, at no cost to them, and a number of agricultural businesses and stakeholders to test ESMC’s market protocols on 50,000 acres that have corn and soybean cropping systems with a heavy dairy or livestock component. ESMC’s program will quantify, verify, and certify the ecosystem service benefits of improved nutrient management, soil health, and edge-of-field best management practices. The project originated from local agricultural community and agribusiness interest in developing long-term financial incentives for sustainably managed farmland. Baseline field and soil testing will begin this fall in the project area which encompasses land that drains into the Sauk River, a tributary of the Mississippi River. Both field and soil improvements will be tracked and quantified.  

The project in central Minnesota is made possible through funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program and TNC, and it leverages existing cost share and technical assistance from project partners including the Stearns County Soil & Water Conservation District, AgCentric, AURI, Centra Sota Cooperative, Environmental Initiative, Field to Market, Headwaters Agriculture Sustainability Partnership, Houston Engineering, Land O’Lakes Truterra, MBOLD, Midwest Dairy, Minnesota Milk Producers Association, Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Syngenta and the University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative. ESMC is also contributing cost share.

Quote: Leif Fixen

We are showing that through best-management practices and targeted conservation projects we can achieve a triple win: lower farming costs, produce more food, and conserve healthy lands and waters for the next generation.

Agriculture Strategy Manager, The Nature Conservancy MN-ND-SD

In addition to these partners, ESMC and TNC will collaborate with additional programs and partners to increase market innovation in support of cost-effective practices and projects that benefit the environment and producers.  

“North America has always served as the breadbasket to the world. We can also now serve as a global model, demonstrating how farmers and conservationists can work together to achieve mutual goals. We are showing that through best-management practices and targeted conservation projects we can achieve a triple win: lower farming costs, produce more food, and conserve healthy lands and waters for the next generation,” said Leif Fixen, The Nature Conservancy’s Agriculture Strategy Manager.

“This project will result in real, quantified reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient loading to surface water,” said Debbie Reed, ESMC Executive Director. “A farmer-centric program that quantifies impacts in a credible, transparent program and meets the demands of buyers can improve growers’ bottom lines. Testing our market program and tools before we launch in 2022 is critical to scale a viable market.”

About Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC)

ESMC is a non-profit dedicated to scaling sustainable ecosystem services from agriculture. It is a public private partnership of the agricultural supply chain and value chain—including producer groups and co-ops, corporate food and beverage companies, agribusiness, conservation NGO’s, ag tech companies, land grant universities and others. Learn more at

ESMC is launching several more pilot projects this fall and next spring in the Midwest region, focusing on row crop and grain production systems. ESMC will launch its national ecosystem services market in 2022. Together with its members, ESMC is testing the market with the agricultural supply chain and value chain in this pilot and in other recently launched ESMC pilot projects.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 70 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.