How effective can carbon credit programs be in reducing nutrient losses: an assessment of public and private conservation programs and their interactions

Aug 2021


The emergence and development of carbon credit programs and the targeting of specific sustainable milestones by many private companies have the potential for greater adoption of conservation practices by injecting additional funding and bringing innovations in incentive mechanisms. In particular, the emerging carbon credit programs will profoundly impact nutrient reduction strategies because conservation practices that reduce nutrient runoff can have implications for carbon, and vice versa.

From a policy standpoint, carbon and nutrient reduction are inseparable for two reasons: (i) most conservation practices that reduce nutrient loss also sequester carbon; and, (ii) both government and private incentives can support the same set of conservation practices. However, some important questions arise: to what extent farmers will participate in carbon markets, how carbon markets will interact with existing nutrient focused conservation programs, and whether and how existing conservation programs can be modified to improve cost-effectiveness in light of the carbon markets. To answer these questions, it is critical that we understand farmers’ views and willingness to adopt conservation practices through the emerging carbon credit markets and the corresponding private companies’ willingness to pay for such practices.


The overarching objective is to investigate the effectiveness of carbon credit programs at reducing nutrient losses. Researchers will investigate how emerging carbon credit programs interact with existing conservation programs that focus on nutrient reduction by examining farmers’ views and participation decisions, their minimum willingness to accept (WTA), and private companies’ maximum willingness to pay (WTP) for carbon credits and conservation practices.


Researchers will investigate these questions with a team of cross-disciplinary researchers at Iowa State University and non-governmental organization partners including The Nature Conservancy, Practical Farmers of Iowa and Sustainable Food Lab. The ultimate long-term outcome of the project is improved cost-effectives of conservation investment that reduces nutrient losses and improves the sustainability of farms.