I don’t think I’ve ever heard a farmer say they wanted more on-farm government intrusion. Practice mandates generally aren’t welcome amongst the individualistic, entrepreneurial types who gravitate to farming, though some mandates have seen positive outcomes over time. Improvements in the Chesapeake Bay come to mind, though the improvements have taken awhile and are incremental.

But recent efforts to tackle climate change and greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions by way of agriculture suggest more governmental involvement could be on the rise in coming years. Think codified standards and incentives for the emerging carbon marketplace, increased funding for conservation programs and greater research on results and implications of specific farming practices.

In February 2022, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) Farm and Forest Carbon Task Force released a report on advancing “natural climate solutions.” The report makes 24 policy recommendations that are designed to be “voluntary and incentive-based, supportive of the needs of producers and working lands, conducive of partnership and collaboration, and compatible with the goals of accountability and transparency.”

Many no-tillers and strip-tillers who’ve been following the development of carbon programs have found that their acres don’t qualify because, as early adopters, they’ve already been doing the practices for too long or there are restrictions on certain practices because they’re already widely implemented in the area. 

One recommendation in the report calls for “a one-time payment to early adopters in connection with new or enhanced USDA program support for climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices” because “rewarding early adopters for the climate and environmental benefits they have already achieved can encourage them to maintain these practices over the long term.”

For anyone who dislikes subsidies, this may not seem like a step in the right direction. After all, practices that are good for the soil are usually also good for the bottom line, as they increase water infiltration, boost soil carbon and reduce erosion, providing the ability to produce more on the same ground or at least grow the same amount with fewer inputs. 

And for that reason, it’s relatively rare for farmers who are already committed to no-till, strip-till or cover crops to go back to conventional farming practices, as they don’t want to destroy the progress they’ve made in terms of restoring soil functionality by adhering to soil care principles.

Many would welcome these payments, though, as a reward for the years of work and experimentation they’ve done in the name of land stewardship. 

We’ll see in the coming months what becomes of these recommendations. Thankfully the task force seems to be committed to developing these recommendations on an incentive-based, rather than mandate-based, structure. 

How do you feel about increased incentives for adopting climate-smart farming practices? And as a strip-tiller, have you gotten involved in any of the carbon programs that have been developed recently?