That's a very good question, and one that I think we've been working with for decades.
The rural water quality program is voluntary. We have found it's really successful from that point of view, in that adequate incentives—to mention your previous question—will get agricultural producers to take action. We always find there are those who won't of course, or that we need to wait for farms to change hands, those sorts of things. It's very difficult on an extensive land-based production system like agriculture to get people to give up a great deal of land when you're talking about the thousands of dollars per acre that they are worth.
What we're finding is that providing adequate incentives with realistic expectations around things like buffers and practices has made a difference. We've seen a lot of uptake. Measuring that is really difficult because with things like phosphorus, we're finding we have legacy phosphorus existing, and we don't know how long it's taking to move through the system. It's the same with nitrogen and groundwater. In measuring the impacts of those best management practices, we just have to go back to the field-based or the actual plot-based science and then extrapolate beyond.
We find that farmers, just like the general public, probably respond better to incentives than to regulation on many issues. Often when we're dealing with farm groups and speaking to soil and crop improvement associations, or something along that line, we start talking about voluntary versus regulatory. It's like the speed limit. We know that most people will probably break the speed limit on certain days.
If we set a three-metre buffer as a regulation, we know there will be people who will try to get away with a two-metre buffer. On a voluntary side, when we incent it—and it's not a very big incentive—we often see them putting more than three metres as their field buffer. They understand where it makes sense and they're controlling it, as opposed to being controlled. It almost comes down to human nature in some cases.
It is a balance between appropriate regulation and appropriate incentives.