The Dubuque County Board of Supervisors could join an existing public/private revenue organization to incentivise farmers to implement in-field conservation practices to further the county’s water quality and flood resilience goals.

County Watershed Coordinator Eric Schmechel presented the board recently with the option, which he said is in line with supervisors’ actions to this point.

“In this year’s budget session, supervisors approved $390,000, allocated for conservation related measures, to fund farmers for in-field conservation practices — no-till payments, cover crop payments, buffers and prairie strips,” he said. “In the last 6-8 months, we’ve been brainstorming with farmers and commissioners with moving more toward a performance-based conservation payment with those dollars.”

Chasing that brainstorm led Schmechel and crew to the Iowa Soybean Association’s Soil and Water Outcomes Fund.

“We leverage private capital on the front end, then use that to work with farmers on in-field practices,” said Adam Keil, the fund’s managing director.

Were they to become “payers,” they would join the cities of Ames and Cedar Rapids, on the local government side. Those cities participated in the program this year.

Through the program, the fund has instigated the planting of 9,031 acres of cover crops, reduced tillage on 7,280 acres, reduced nitrogen rates on 3,963 acres and encouraged crop rotation changes on 2,572 acres, according to the presentation.

By the Outcomes Fund’s monitoring, those practices have kept 173,169 pounds of nitrogen and 18,811 pounds of phosphorus from entering waterways. That goes toward Ames and Cedar Rapids water quality improvement goals.

The practices also offset 7,106 tons of carbon emissions, through carbon sequestration in the soil.

That carbon sequestration is what brings Cargill, the fund’s major private partner, to the table. The global food giant wants to offset its operations’ enormous carbon emissions. So, they pay into the program.

The idea is, the outcomes sought by both the private corporation and the local governments are coming from the same practices at the same time.

“These practices are generating multiple environmental outcomes,” Lambert said. “Those parties are participating together, effectively subsidizing each other’s participation.”

For the farmers, Keil said the fund offers a little more money, since the cost is being split between Cargill and the cities, with less rigid requirements than some existing government incentives.

And those outcomes are what sets this private revenue source for farmers apart from fully government options.

“Since we’re based on developing outcomes, we pay the farmers at scale, based on the outcomes they generate for us,” Keil said.

The supervisors didn’t immediately join this organization, but will consider it along with other options — including Truterra Insights, another sustainable agriculture fund leveraging program Schmechel will present at today’s meeting.