Is an Agricultural Certainty Program a Useful Tool?
In recent months, Chesapeake Bay states, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and stakeholders from both the agricultural and environmental community have been discussing a proposed voluntary effort termed “agricultural certainty”. If implemented correctly, the program could provide farmers certainty that states would not impose additional regulations on them for a given period of time with regard to environmental protection. Thus, the program could provide farmers the necessary assurances that would allow them to make longer term business decisions. A correctly implemented program could also provide states a useful tool to achieve implementation of additional agricultural best management practices beyond those farmers are already utilizing as well as encouraging continued efforts for innovation on the farm.
If implemented incorrectly, the agriculture certainty program could deter participation by being too onerous or by providing insignificant benefits. The program will likely be under-utilized if the time period of agreement is too short, the practices identified and requirements for implementation are not economical, the practices are perceived to reduce yields, or the verification and reporting requirements are too exhaustive.
The states are now starting to better detail the elements that will define their agricultural certainty programs. And, EPA and USDA are continuing to discuss and evaluate their support of the effort. To design a useful tool, they will need to weigh their desired level of grower participation and the desired usefulness of the tool versus the need for a program that looks more like a regulation and permitting system than a voluntary effort.