With the increase in interest in soil health practices, farmers also want to know what is best for their bottom line. Today, American Farmland Trust has released four case studies that show healthier soil on farmland brings economic benefits to farmers and environmental benefits to society. These case studies were developed in partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
AFT Water Initiative Director Dr. Michelle Perez, the lead researcher on the project, is unveiling the case studies at the Soil and Water Conservation Society annual conference today. The case studies were developed as part of a 2018 NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant project, “Accelerating Soil Health Adoption by Quantifying Economic and Environmental Outcomes and Overcoming Barriers on Rented Lands,” and feature farms in California, Illinois, Ohio, and New York.
“Increasingly, we understand that better soil health — and specific practices aimed at building soil organic matter, fostering microbial life in the soil, reducing nutrient loss, and protecting soil from erosion — lead to higher net income for farming operations. These case studies contribute to the growing body of quantitative evidence that improving soil health increases farmer profitability,” said Dr. Perez.
The two-page case studies focus on corn-soybean production in Illinois and Ohio, almond production in California and a diversified rotation (sweet corn, alfalfa, corn for silage or grain) in New York. The four farmers featured implemented soil health practices like no-till or strip-till, nutrient management, cover crops, compost, and mulching.
“When it comes to conservation, producers have to make decisions based on what makes the most sense for their operations,” said NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr. “These case studies provide information on the economic benefits of using soil health management systems, demonstrating the value of adopting these systems.”
With soil health management, producers can increase their yield, decrease their risk and input costs, and improve their profits, all while conserving our nation’s resources for the public at large, on their farms, in their watersheds, and beyond. Soil health management systems are good for farmers and for the public.
Highlights from the case studies include:
- All four of the farmers profiled saw improved yields ranging from 2% to 22% that they attributed, in part, to their soil health practices. The average return on investment was 176% for the four farms in the study and ranged from 35% to 343%. The study accounted for other factors at play in increased yield such as improved seed varieties and increased seeding rates.
- All four farmers saw improved water quality outcomes, both by witnessing reduced soil and water runoff and as estimated by USDA’s Nutrient Tracking Tool. NTT estimated that nitrogen reductions ranged from 40% to 98%, phosphorus reductions ranged from 74% to 92%; and sediment reductions ranged from 76% to 96% from specific fields in each farm.
- All four farmers saw improved climate outcomes, as estimated by USDA’s COMET-Farm Tool. The tool estimated that total greenhouse gas emission reductions from specific fields in each farm ranged from 16% to 560%, corresponding to taking three-fourths of a car to 17 cars off the road.
- All four farmers have been implementing different soil health practices over different time frames and a variety of cropping systems. With these case studies and the ones that will be released in the fall, AFT is building a diverse library of on-farm examples of soil health investments that have led to economic gain.
Farmers across the country can reach out to their local NRCS and Soil and Water Conservation District staff to help them implement soil health practices on their farm. In the watersheds featured in the four case studies, farmers can reach out to both the local NRCS and SWCD staff as well as the four AFT authors of the case studies.
AFT’s first four case studies can be found on AFT’s “Accelerating Soil Health” webpage.