The USDA Office of Environmental Markets has released the Nutrient Tracking Tool (NTT) created by the Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research at Tarleton State University for nationwide use.

Invented by TIAER researchers led by Associate Director Dr. Ali Saleh, in collaboration with the USDA, the free online tool helps assess the water quality improvements of conservation practices on farms, estimating nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) and sediment losses through its user-friendly link to the Agriculture Policy Environmental eXtender (APEX).

“This release marks the first national version of the NTT,” Saleh said, “and is a huge win for TIAER, Tarleton, the USDA and farmers and producers across the United States. Not only can the NTT estimate the effectiveness of various field-specific cropping patterns and management practices, but it can calculate crop yields.”

In addition to providing real-world information on the impact of conservation practices on production and sustainability of agricultural operations, the NTT aids in developing markets where farmers get paid for the water quality benefits they provide. Known as water-quality credit trading, these programs help reduce water pollutants, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, by letting pollution sources in a watershed trade among themselves to find the most cost-efficient way of reducing the nutrients.

For example, Saleh explained, farmers might sell one pound of phosphorous to a wastewater treatment plant that needs to meet a water quality limit. The plant meets its needs at a lower cost, and the farmer receives a payment for improving water quality.

Originally developed for the Chesapeake Bay and a limited number of pilot states, the NTT is free and available at for use throughout the United States. An informational webinar, hosted by the USDA Office of Environmental Markets, is set for 1 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14. Go to to participate.