‘Nutrient farming’ would pay farmers to manage wetlands.

You’ve heard of carbon credits. Donald Hey would like to see “nutrient credits.”

Hey is an Illinois environmental engineer and executive director of Wetlands Research Inc. He’s also co-founder of The Wetlands Initiative, a Chicago-based advocacy group that is working on innovative ways to finance wetland restoration and maintenance. Hey argues that private market forces could make it financially feasible for farmers to restore and actively manage wetlands for water-quality benefits.

Wetlands are very effective at cleaning up nitrates and other pollutants from agricultural drainage water and municipal and industrial wastewater, Hey says. They also store floodwaters, provide wildlife habitat and sequester carbon.

But there’s a catch, Hey says: “How can landowners earn money from wetlands?”

Rather than growing corn or soybeans in floodplains and bottomlands, he suggests farmers could restore wetlands and harvest nutrient-removal credits. These credits could be sold to cities, industries and drainage districts that need cost-effective ways to reduce nutrient discharges. He calls this idea “nutrient farming.”

The Wetlands Initiative estimates that actively managed wetlands could offer farmers as much as $500/acre for nutrient removal, floodwater storage and recreation. “If we manage wetlands it would not only help the environment, but would also put agriculture on a better economic footing,” Hey says.”

For more on nutrient farming, go to http://www.wetlands-initiative.org.