Nitrogen Credit Trading as a Mechanism for Riparian Buffer Establishment on Pennsylvania Farmland

Open Access
Boleman, Patrick James
Graduate Program:
Forest Resources
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
June 20, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Michael Gregory Jacobson, Thesis Advisor
  • Riparian Buffer
  • Nitrogen
  • Nutrient Credit Trading
  • Agroforestry
  • Chesapeake Bay Watershed
  • Payment for Ecosystem Services
  • Pennsylvania
Nutrient pollution from agricultural sources has been a large contributor to the decline in the health of the Chesapeake Bay. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s (CBP) Watershed Model estimates, agricultural sources constitute 42% of the total nitrogen pollution entering the Bay as of 2014, the largest source by any sector. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania continues to remain the largest contributor to nitrogen loading into the Chesapeake Bay of any state within the Bay watershed. In a recent report by the CBP, Pennsylvania agriculture is lagging behind other sectors in nitrogen pollution reduction. Vegetated riparian buffers are a common agricultural best management practice used to reduce runoff from adjacent upland fields resulting in the abatement of nutrient and sediment loading. Studies have shown riparian buffers to be effective at removing nitrogen loading from upland areas, such as from agricultural fields. Numerous programs have attempted to increase buffer establishment through a variety of mechanisms however other incentives must be implemented in order to meet buffer establishment goals set forth by the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. Nutrient credit trading has been proposed as a potential mechanism for reducing non-point source nutrient pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay such as from agriculture. Nitrogen credits are currently being traded in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, however non-point sources compose a small percentage of the total nitrogen credit supply. This study evaluated the ability of agricultural riparian buffers to produce nitrogen credits within the Pennsylvania Nutrient Credit Trading Program as a revenue generating mechanism to incentivize buffer adoption by Pennsylvania farmers. The variation in nitrogen credit trading profits from geographic location, buffer type and size, and farming practices were evaluated to determine the feasibility of nitrogen credit production as an adequate incentive for buffer establishment. Nitrogen credit trading was compared to alternative buffer incentive programs such as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to assess the benefits and disadvantages of credit trading as an incentive.