Environmental markets represent a way for growing communities to offset or mitigate for the unavoidable impacts of growth and development at the lowest reasonable cost. To help farmers and landowners assess environmental market opportunities, where to find more information, and better understand the risks in this marketplace, American Farmland Trust has just released A Guide to Environmental Markets for Farmers & Ranchers.

By definition, an environmental market is simply a market in which the products being bought and sold are environmental resources — both tangible things like conserved water or wetland acreage and less-tangible things like soil carbon storage, cleaned water, and renewable kilowatts. Environmental markets can be formal, with large institutional structures, or as simple as a policy framework to allow trading of environment resource “credits” among individual buyers and sellers.

“Through new environmental markets, serious, financially-capable buyers are now paying farmers and ranchers full value to adopt well-known and widely-accepted conservation practices,” Stuart adds. “These deals can allow the landowners to receive supplemental income for providing environmental services at the same time they continue their normal farming operations.”

Some examples of environmental markets include reducing greenhouse gasses, improving water quality, restoring wetlands, protecting wildlife habitat, conserving water, generating renewable energy and others. “Since this is a relatively new marketplace for farmers, they naturally have questions,” Stuart adds, “ranging from how the markets work and how much are they worth, to what the risks are and where farmers can find further information.” The guide addresses these questions and more.

In the course of preparing the guide, the authors conducted a thorough appraisal of environmental markets that could be available to farmers and ranchers in Washington state. Among their key findings was that most farmers and ranchers in the state will soon have an opportunity to participate in at least one environmental market; many have opportunities to generate credit-producing environmental improvements on their land right now; and many operators will have several options. “I’d characterize it as a very good outlook for our state’s farmers and ranchers,” Stuart says. “As the existing markets grow and new markets get started, there will be more widespread opportunities for farmers to participate in these markets.”

While the guide was written for farmers and ranchers in Washington state, it also provides basic information that applies to environmental markets across the United States.

More information and a downloadable copy of A Guide to Environmental Markets for Farmers & Ranchers is available at: www.farmland.org/environmentalmarkets.