Outcome estimation tools supports farm conservation practices


Today, American Farmland Trust released a new tool to help manage conservation projects. The new guide, A Guide to Water Quality, Climate, Social, and Economic Outcomes Estimation Tool: Quantifying Outcomes to Accelerate Farm Conservation Practice Adoption, features tools and methods for use by managers of projects funded by the USDA, EPA, states, and the private sector who are supporting conservation practice adoption on millions of acres.

Agricultural production can result in the unintended effects of impairing water quality in surface and ground waters and producing harmful climate changing gases. In fact, agriculture remains “the leading source of water quality impacts on surveyed rivers and lakes” (EPA, 2016) and as a sector, “agriculture emits an estimated 9.9 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gases” (EPA, 2020). Addressing these unintended environmental impacts, increasing resilience to climate change, and keeping farms viable are among the paramount challenges that agriculture faces today.

A large and diverse conservation community is addressing these challenges from many sectors including government, academic, environmental and farm groups, and more recently, corporations with supply chain sustainability programs. This community supports farmers through educational, financial, and technical assistance projects to adopt conservation practices that can result in improved water quality, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, increased soil health and carbon sequestration, a boost to the farmer’s bottom line, and many other benefits. AFT estimates there are over one thousand federally funded farm conservation projects collaborating with tens of thousands of farmers on millions of acres.

“One way to develop awareness and positive farmer attitudes for farm conservation practices is to quantify results. In fact, outcomes quantification is moving to the forefront of the emerging food and corporate supply chain sustainability efforts, state policy consortiums like the US Climate Alliance, and USDA programs focused on soil health and carbon sequestration,” said Michelle Perez, AFT water director. “We hope that estimating practice outcomes will increase farmer confidence in the conservation practices and we envision “a self-strengthening cycle” where outcomes quantification results in more practice adoption which then offers more quantification opportunities inspiring even more adoption.”

“AFT believes outcomes quantification may help project managers to dialogue more persuasively with local farmers and develop more effective outreach and educational events to help “sell” conservation better, faster, and across more acres,” said Emily Cole, AFT’s climate and agriculture program manager. “Effectively, practice- and project-scale outcomes quantification by local project managers can become another “tool” in the “conservation toolbox” alongside educational, financial, and technical assistance efforts to accelerate practice adoption.”

The guide features 14 tools and two methods that provide quantitative estimates of the impacts that conservation practices can have on of water quality, climate, social, or economic outcomes. The featured tools were chosen based upon their availability, applicability, and usability by conservation project managers. 

Finally, the paper offers 14 recommendations to stimulate efforts by government agencies, academics, foundations, and the private sector to:

  1. further refine existing tools and methods,
  2. provide additional guidance and support to project managers, and
  3. build a national dataset to continually calibrate and validate outcomes quantification models and tools.

If you would like a free print copy of the 100-page guide mailed to you, please fill out this form. AFT will host an in-depth webinar presentation on the Guide and discuss the recommendations on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. See registration details here to join.

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