A Washington D.C. think tank issued recommendations Wednesday calling for the federal government to increase money and support for conservation ag practices.

The recommendations issued by the Bipartisan Policy Center also mention a long-standing issue central for long-term conservation tillers: how to include benefits for farmers who have worked at conservation practices like no-till and strip till farming for decades.

“Early adapters should be rewarded as a way to align incentives, acknowledge past commitment, and promote continued stewardship,” the report reads in part. “This is especially critical for small-scale producers who have traditionally relied on climate-smart practices but have been excluded from access to credit and related financial services that would help them scale up these practices.”

The group recommends one-time payments for no-till farmers who have already practiced methods like conservation tillage and cover crops for a number of years.

“Participants could have the opportunity to certify past practices from a combination of satellite imagery records, participation in NRCS and other conservation programs, or through direct monitoring,” the report reads.

Rewarding past practices is cited at agriculture conferences as one of the quandaries of increasing the number of landowners who adopt no-till, strip-till, cover crops, and other conservation-friendly practices (though many long-term growers like to point out that the changes are also very thrifty). Most current ecological incentive programs focus on rewarding growers for adapting new conservation-minded practices, what are frequently called “additionalities.”

That process omits growers who had adopted conservation-friendly practices before the incentives were offered.

Other farming- focused recommendations include:

  • Expanding existing conservation programs offered through the USDA, via increased funding and the establishment of benchmarks and goals.
  • Improving technical support and workforce development.
  • Improving carbon voluntary carbon markets.
  • Developing new financial and insurance instruments.
  • Fostering farm and forest climate innovation.

The recommendations are delivered in report “Federal Policies to Advance Natural Climate Solutions,” which also focuses on forestry policy. The recommendations were authored by a task force consisting of former senators, government officials, environmental lobbyists and agricultural lobbyists.

The report consists of 22 recommendations grouped into 6 “themes” aimed at farms, ranches, and forest lands.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack commended the report at a Center event announcing the project, and said Biden administration aims mostly overlapped with the recommendations. While the report was primarily environmentally focused, recommendations could also be good business, Vilsack said.

“I think there’s also the opportunity here to address a fundamental issue of agriculture, and that I bringing more revenue — more income opportunities — into agriculture through climate-smart agricultural practices,” he said. “So I think there’s an opportunity not only to impact the climate but also to improve farm income.”

The National Wildlife Federation — whose president and CEO Collin O'Mara was a member of the Center Task Force that drafted the report — also praised it, and urged the government to act.

“Investing in collaborative conservation has broad bipartisan support and we urge Congress and the Biden Administration to seize this moment by prioritizing climate-smart agriculture and natural climate solutions," O'Mara said, in a Federation issued statement.

The Bipartisan Policy Center was founded in 2007, and seeks to combine policy ideas from both political parties in favor of the common good.