No-tillers in the Ohio River Basin may have an opportunity to put a few extra dollars in their pockets while helping protect the environment.

Last month, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) completed the first trading of interstate water-nutrient credits in the U.S., officially launching water-quality pilot trades in the basin. The program was created to test water-quality improvement strategies.

Here’s how it works: Facilities like power plants have permits that limit the amount of nutrients they’re allowed to discharge into a watershed. They can stay under those limits by either installing treatment technology, or purchasing “credits” from farmers who are implementing conservation practices that prevent nutrient runoff. The practice might include cover crops, grasses along streams or technology to improve fertilizer-use efficiency. 

Sixteen farmers from Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky are involved in the first round of trading, and 20 more farmers may join this year. At full scale, the project could include up to eight states in the basin and create credit markets for 230,000 farmers. EPRI estimates reductions of 66,000 pounds in nitrogen and 33,000 pounds in phosphorus pollution into the watershed when the second round of projects is completed. The first round sold 9,000 stewardship credits at $10 each. This pdf explains the definition of a credit and how they determined pricing. 

While nutrient-trading programs can bring additional income for farmers, critics point out these deals do nothing to stop industrial violators from polluting.

Truth be told, no-tillers can help the environment and be more profitable without such programs. Celina, Ohio, no-tiller Jeff Rasawehr has implemented an ecological farming system of no-till and aggressive use of cover crops to reduce nutrient discharge into Grand Lake St. Marys — a 13,000-acre lake that has suffered from severe algae blooms due to phosphorus runoff.

Rasawehr has seen a decrease in nitrogen requirements, improved weed suppression and increased yields, providing a $200-per-acre profit boost. We’ll share his story in the Spring issue of Conservation Tillage Guide.

Whether it’s participating in a future nutrient-trading program, or implementing sustainable practices on your own farm, there are plenty of opportunities to put more money back into your wallet and still protect our valuable water resources.

Laura Allen,
Associate Editor
No-Till Farmer