Farmers in Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio will soon benefit from a new partnership between the Soil and Water Outcomes Fund and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS).

The Ag Technology and Environmental Stewardship Foundation (AgTech), a subsidiary of the Iowa Soybean Association, and other partners are recipients of a $7.3 million Regional Conservation Partnership Program Alternative Funding Arrangement (RCPP-AFA) award courtesy of the USDA-NRCS. The award is one of ten projects funded nationwide.

Created and jointly managed by the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) and Washington D.C. based Quantified Ventures, the Soil and Water Outcomes Fund uses investment capital to compensate farmers for positive environmental outcomes generated by conservation-oriented practices on their farms, specifically water quality improvement and enhanced carbon sequestration. These outcomes are independently measured and verified and then purchased by government entities and private corporations.

“We are excited to bring this innovative outcome-based funding mechanism to work with farmers to produce water quality and carbon sequestration outcomes,” says Adam Kiel, ISA’s director of conservation.

A defining feature of the two-year award is to position USDA-NRCS as a purchaser of verified water quality improvement outcomes generated by the Soil and Water Outcomes Fund.

The fund is currently working with farmers in Iowa. The new funding will allow for additional impact in Iowa and expansion into Illinois and Ohio.

Over the next two years, participating farmers will be compensated for nitrogen and phosphorus reduction and carbon sequestration outcomes from practices such as cover crops and no-till used on an estimated 180,000 acres. The resulting environmental outcomes are estimated to be 3.24 million pounds of nitrogen reduction in water, 270,000 pounds of phosphorus reduction in water and 135,000 tons of CO2e sequestered in soil.

Work is expected to begin later this year with farmer enrollment beginning in early 2021.

“The Soil and Water Outcomes Fund will bring together a diverse group of stakeholders that benefit from agricultural conservation,” says Mark Lambert, Quantified Ventures director of agriculture. “We’re thrilled to include NRCS as a core partner and beneficiary and applaud their commitment to pay for performance approaches that deliver meaningful value to farmers and harness the power of impact-oriented investment capital.”

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig says the project will help farmers and landowners use agronomic and conservation data to add value to their operations. “Innovation has always been a cornerstone of Iowa agriculture,” he says. “We appreciate USDA’s support of this project, which is a great example of how public and private partners are working together to develop new solutions to increase the sustainability of Iowa agriculture.”

The RCPP-AFA funds will be matched by carbon and water outcome buyers including the City of Cedar Rapids, City of Ames, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Cargill. Combined with the contribution from the RCPP-AFA, outcome purchases will total $10.3 million.

Cargill has been supportive of the effort, stemming back to the early days of piloting the program in Iowa.

“Establishing markets that provide incentives to farmers for adoption of soil health best management practices allows them to maximize their profits and make a positive impact on the environment,” says Ryan Sirolli, Cargill sustainability director for row crops. “Agriculture is how we can enhance farmer livelihoods while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving water quality and increasing drought resilience.”

More information about the Soil and Water Outcomes Fund can be found at www.theoutcomesfund.com.