Payment for Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services are any positive benefits that the natural world provides to humans. They can be divided into four types:  

  • Provisioning (food, fuel, fiber)
  • Regulating (clean water and air, pollination, carbon stored in the soil)
  • Cultural (recreational or spiritual benefits) 
  • Supporting (photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, the creation of soils)

Payment for Ecosystem Service (PES) Programs can incentivize and reward land managers for the environmental benefits that they provide the broader community through their land management, such as increased flood and drought resiliency; improved soil health and biodiversity; and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, erosion and water pollution.


Finger Lakes Payment for Ecosystem Service Pilot Program

The Finger Lakes PES Work Team aims to develop a regional PES program that would incentivize and reward farmers who provide ecosystem services for our community.

We are currently working with six pilot farms to test methodologies that quantify the following ecosystem services on each farm:

  • Carbon sequestration in soils and above-ground woody biomass (carbon in trees);
  • In-field water holding capacity and infiltration rates;
  • Erosion and nutrient runoff mitigation.

Each of the pilot farmers is deeply committed to implementing practices and systems that not only provide food for our community but also work in harmony with the environment. Pilot farmers will participate in the program for two years and will provide integral collaboration and feedback to ensure that the program fits their needs and priorities. In addition, some of our pilot farmers serve on the Work Team to envision and create the overall program design.

The Finger Lakes PES Pilot Program is working to directly address the key themes in CCE Tompkins' Strategic Plan, including climate change, economic justice and racial equity. Our vision is that 'By 2025, grassroots coalitions will expand acres managed under ecologically sound and agriculturally productive farming systems in the Finger Lakes Region by leveraging regional relationships and community connections that include young and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) farmers.'


How do land managers provide ecosystem services?

Land managers provide ecosystem services to the community through their management systems, in particular, with regenerative practices and systems. Our definition of 'regenerative' is based on the five soil health principles including least disturbance of the soil, keeping the ground covered, diversity in plant and animal species, keeping living roots in the soil as much as possible, and the importance of integrating animals. 

Why are you doing a regional approach to develop a program? Are there existing programs that farmers could join?

There are existing PES programs, mostly focused on carbon, that some farmers are able to access. However, they are primarily focused on large farms, charge verification fees for farmers to participate, and do not acknowledge or work to ensure the participation of BIPOC or beginning farmers. For these reasons, we aim to develop a program for farmers who have historically been unable to engage with existing PES programs or other agricultural resources. In addition to our goal to develop the regional pilot program, we will work with farmers who are interested in joining existing carbon market programs. See the 'Resources' section on the left for a list of carbon market opportunities.


Jenna DeRario
Payment for Ecosystem Services Educator
607-272-2292 voicemail #282

Last updated September 15, 2023