A great deal of progress has been made in further developing the overall Ecosystem Services Market (ESM) program since its inception in 2017. The ESM team has continued with collaborative engagement activities across the full range of the agricultural supply and value chains, including farming and ranching communities, commodity groups, and potential corporate partners. Work also continues on technical issues, including development of the technical and logistical requirements of a platform to collect and store data and track progress of the overall program. A critical component of the work is to develop a science- and outcomes-based protocol that quantifies and monetizes the three soil health attributes of soil carbon, water quality and water quantity.
FARMER-BASED, FARMER-FACING PROGRAM.
Since the ESM approach is farmer-based and farmer-facing, ESM is committed to overcoming the challenges encountered in past and current ecosystems service markets for agriculture and working lands. Our focus will continue to be on ensuring the development of flexible, realistic and user-friendly tools and methods to build a viable, scalable ecosystem services marketplace that rewards the agricultural sector for healthy soils outcomes. The program initially will quantify the protection and enhancement of soil carbon stores, improved water quality outcomes, and enhanced water use efficiency and conservation. The farmers and ranchers engaged in our process will validate each major decision and provide guidance and feedback to ESM to ensure development of a program that delivers sound science-based outcomes for society and farmers. They will also ensure the program exhibits necessary flexibility and rewards innovations that are hallmarks of early adopters of ecosystem-friendly practices that result in outcomes desired by society and agricultural supply chains.
PROTOCOL DEVELOPMENT TEAM ESTABLISHED.
Protocol development work kicked into high gear in July with the engagement of a team of expert consultants hired to work with the DRD Associates LLC team of Debbie Reed and Rori Cowan. Cowan joined DRD Associates most recently from the American Carbon Registry, and together they are working with a team led by Mark Kieser of Kieser & Associates, LLC. The Kieser & Associates team includes subject matter experts from Tetra Tech, Inc., and WestWater Research LLC, with additional legal and strategic advisors. The Protocol Development Team was hosted by Noble Research Institute staff at the Noble Retreat Center in Ardmore for three days of meetings and site visits to fully delve into the task of beginning to develop the ESM protocol.
QUANTIFICATION TOOLS REVIEW AND SELECTION.
While in Ardmore, the team focused first on continuing the process of reviewing existing and developing ecosystem service markets in the U.S. Extensive matrices were developed to document the relevant parameters of tools and models that have been and are in use to quantify outcomes for carbon, water quality and water quantity in these markets. In all, 38 parameters were identified for nearly 25 different tools and models, providing a robust body of documentation to help inform decision points for development of the ESM program protocols. Additionally, the team held calls with some modelers to answer additional questions beyond what was provided in the technical documentation.
FLEXIBLE MODULAR PROTOCOL FRAMEWORK.
The team also reviewed and further iterated on a tiered protocol framework that will form the basis of a flexible, modular protocol that can match buyer demand to quantified ecosystem service outcomes to be monetized in the form of credits. The framework under development will build on the significant technological and data-driven advances visible in the agricultural and ecosystem services sectors over the past decade — advances that will reduce or eliminate burdensome and expensive approaches to measuring, reporting and verifying ecosystem service impacts for carbon and water attributes. The framework will be scalable and adaptable for all major agricultural production systems and will also allow the ESM program to add additional ecosystem service modules in the future, including modules for biodiversity, habitat conservation and pollinator habitat.
PILOTING THE ESM PROTOCOL.
Upon completion of the first protocol draft at the end of 2018, the Protocol Development Team will pilot test the protocol in the U.S. Southern Great Plains states of Oklahoma and Texas. We will work with ranchers and farmers engaged in the Noble Research Institute Land Stewardship Program on this first 12-month pilot over the course of the 2019 calendar year, testing all aspects of the protocols: farmer engagement approaches and documentation; simplified data collection applications and interfaces; and development and testing of a scalable, cost-effective monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) system that minimizes producer burden while delivering quantified science-based and outcomes-based ecosystem service attributes to society.
PLANNING THE ESM PROGRAM EXPANSION TO FULL-SCALE LAUNCH.
Finally, the team worked with the ESM Inside the Farm Gate Committee and turned their attention to planning program expansion to fully scale soil health across the U.S. The program expansion plan includes necessary modifications and adaptations to the protocol as the program moves into additional U.S. geographies and agricultural production systems. Using U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service Farm Resource Region maps as a guide, the teams documented the criteria that will guide program expansion, including collaborator pilot projects, high-acreage and high-impact agricultural production systems, and high-priority regions and watersheds within which the program can operate and scale.
The Protocol Development Team looks forward to sharing additional progress updates as our work further progresses, and we especially look forward to launching the program at scale in order to achieve the Noble Research Institute’s mission of improved soil health in the U.S and the many beneficial attributes that will bring.
Noble Research Institute, LLC (www.noble.org) is an independent nonprofit agricultural research organization dedicated to delivering solutions to great agricultural challenges. Headquartered in Ardmore, Oklahoma, the Noble Research Institute conducts fundamental, translational and applied research; offers no-cost consultation and education to farmers, ranchers and land managers; operates seven research and demonstration farms; and educates students of all ages about science and agriculture. The Noble Research Institute was founded by Lloyd Noble, an Oklahoma oilman and philanthropist, in 1945 as The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation to advance agriculture and land stewardship.