By Tom Driscoll, Director of Conservation Policy and NFU Foundation

Farmers are a key participant in mitigating climate change. Agriculture is one of a few sectors that can sink existing atmospheric greenhouse gasses (GHGs) as well as reduce emissions moving forward. Environmental markets could compensate farmers for natural resource conservation benefits achieved on their land. A prior Climate Column post explained the criteria necessary to maintain the credibility of any program that facilitates payments for environmental services. Among these is the principle that the environmental benefits farmers offer for value must be quantifiable, verifiable, and results-based in order for environmental markets to work.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in conjunction with Colorado State University, has created a tool called COMET-Farm that can assist those administering environmental markets to certify and count on-farm conservation benefits to be offered for value on environmental markets. The tool tracks greenhouse gas emissions and sinks on participating farms using management data submitted by the farmer as well as spatially-specific information from geospatial databases on climate and soil conditions.

Participating farmers submit information including:

  • Crop sequence, planting and harvest dates;
  • Type of grazing system;
  • Type of tillage and residue management;
  • Rate, timing and manner of fertilizer applications; and
  • Irrigation method and application rate.

The tool then tracks changes in soil biomass, nitrous oxide and methane emissions from fertilizer and nutrient management systems, on-farm energy use, and other emissions sources like burning and liming.

This mix of data makes COMET-Farm more precise than modeling systems; its ability to account for local conditions and practices allows farmers to compete to achieve more conservation benefits on their ground and can be used to ensure fair compensation for participating farmers.

Will COMET-Farm eventually help farmers earn compensation for environmental services? You can learn more about the tool at

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