Initiative 3. Develop New and Creative Incentives to Encourage a High Bar of Conservation Beyond Compliance

An agricultural certification program will recognize and reward producers who have reached a high bar of conservation. Recognition based, certainty based and market based incentives will all be explored to encourage producers to pursue certification.

As a first step, agreed upon certification standards for meeting a high bar of conservation must be developed. Consensus exists that these should be standards of excellence which exceed baseline compliance, but further discussion is needed to determine whether standards should be practice based, performance based, or some combination of both.

One category of incentives to encourage farmer participation in the certification program is recognition or reward based. Recognition based incentives acknowledge that farmers appreciate being rewarded for reaching high conservation standards within the industry. Recognition can also motivate peers to raise their conservation bar. Signage, public recognition and financial awards will all be considered.

The linking of certification to a Pennsylvania ag certainty program will also be explored, though there is clear recognition that the certainty bar needs to be well above existing regulatory requirements and that those existing requirements cannot be relaxed. This is particularly true in Pennsylvania where strong regulatory programs addressing agriculture and water quality are already in place. While further discussion is needed, relief from the current program of compliance inspections may be considered sufficient certainty to incentivize farmers to voluntarily accelerate implementation of agricultural conservation practices which take the farmer beyond compliance and bring the Commonwealth closer to meeting local and Bay water quality goals.

Finally, great potential exists for the certification program to be linked to product branding and “clean water” supply chains to meet corporate sustainability goals. The agricultural and food industry will be engaged to discuss consideration of these certifications in food supply chain management, marketing products, and corporate sustainability practices, providing market drivers for conservation practices on farms. Agricultural lenders and insurers will also be brought into the conversation to discuss incorporating conservation into program eligibility.