No-tillers in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia could make thousands of dollars more a year if Congress passes legislation to create an interstate nutrient trading program, which would be a cost-effective solution to restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay, the World Resources Institute (WRI) says.

“By investing in cover crops, riparian buffers, and other nutrient-reduction practices, farmers in the Bay area could earn substantial profits from participating in nutrient trading,” says John Talberth, WRI senior economist.

Farmers who participate in a bay-wide trading program could potentially increase their profits by an average of $11,000 per year with a credit price of $20 per pound of nitrogen or make a 55 percent return on their investment in nutrient reduction practices. That’s the conclusion of the WRI’s analysis of nine farm scenarios across the three states.

The WRI created a Farm Profit Calculator that takes into account capital, maintenance, land rental, and transaction costs no-tillers face when investing and maintaining such practices.

Under a trading program, farmers who reduce nutrient pollution from their farms could sell credits to other sources of nutrient pollution, such as wastewater treatment plants.

However,farmers first have to meet baseline requirements representing their farm’s portion of their state’s Bay clean-up goal before investing in additional pollution-reducing measures and trading credits.

“Many — but not all — farms will profit from trading since profitability depends on the type and location of the farm and availability of state payments to share the cost of baseline practices, among other factors,” says Cy Jones, WRI’s Water Quality Team Leader.

“It’s clear from our analysis that trading is not only a cost-effective investment for some farmers, but also a cost-saving mechanism to clean up the Bay,” Jones says.