Agri-environmental incentive programs seek to compensate farmers for changes to enhance ecosystem services and/or biodiversity, yet enrolling participants is a common challenge. We examine this challenge using a relational values lens, a framework developed here in reference to three key relationships of farmers to: their land, community and landscape. We then apply this framework to better understand participation in an incentive program for riparian buffers in the US Northwest (the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program). Results are derived from in-depth interviews among participants and potential participants. Using qualitative coding and analysis, we identified five key value conflicts between participants and programs, via the implications of program rules for participant values: aesthetics, active land management, parcel-specific knowledge, and community knowledge about and agency over the landscape. Applying a relational values framework demonstrates how program conditions appear to threaten these valued relationships, leading to value conflicts between programs and participants. Analysis of participant responses suggests that grounding conservation programs in locally salient values could not only increase enrollment but also foster stewardship values that underlie conservation. We conclude with suggestions as to how agri-environmental incentive programs could adapt to better fit with farmer values—making programs more attractive without undermining their ecological effectiveness.