Farms, ranches and forests provide vital goods and services to society called "ecosystem services." These services offer additional benefits to society beyond typical agricultural products, such as clean water and air, wildlife habitat, carbon storage, and healthy soils. Market-based approaches to conservation are a cost-effective method to achieve environmental goals and sustain working and natural landscapes. There have been on-going efforts in this area since the 2007 Farm Bill. Currently, NRCS has placed an emphasis on Environment Markets to continue this work. There has also been numerous Conservation Innovation Grants in this area over the past few years, including 23 awards in 2015. The interest and effort to reduce greenhouse gases and sequester carbon has resulted in the development of COMET-Farm, a whole farm and ranch greenhouse gas accounting system. This program can be used as a basis of GHG accounting in an environmental market approach.
Also, supporting wildlife habitat is an important goal of NRCS programs. The Working Lands for Wildlife Program works with conservation partners and private landowners to restore populations of declining wildlife species, to provide regulatory certainty, and to strengthen and sustain rural economies.
Image above and right: Photos courtesy of USDA-NRCS