Soil Health Institute report explores profitability of soil management


The Soil Health Institute, a nonprofit that helps to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soils, plans to release a comprehensive report on the Economics of Soil Health on 100 Farms during a webinar at noon ET Sept. 30.

Using data collected and analyzed across 100 farms in nine states, SHI President and CEO Wayne Honeycutt will share key findings that can only be gleaned at such a scale.

Related: Difference between soil tests and soil health tests

The analysis and findings include:

  1. A total of 100 farmers were interviewed representing 194,003 acres of cropland across Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Tennessee. 
  2. These farmers were using no-till on 85 percent of their cropland and cover crops on 53 percent of their cropland, well above the national average of 37 percent for no-till and 5 percent for cover crops. Those farmers using no-till had been doing so for an average of 19 years, and those who grew cover crops had been doing so for an average of nine years.
  3. Sixty-seven percent of the farmers interviewed reported increased yield from using a soil health management system. Two percent reported decreased corn yield.
  4. It cost an average of $24.00/acre less to grow corn and $16.57/acre less to grow soybean using a soil health management system.
  5. Soil health management systems increased net income for 85% of farmers growing corn and 88% growing soybean.
  6. Based on standardized prices, the soil health management system increased net income for these 100 farmers by an average of $51.60/acre for corn and $44.89/acre for soybean.
  7. Farmers also reported additional benefits of their soil health management system, such as increased resilience to extreme weather and increased access to their fields.

The most desirable and robust information on how soil health affects profitability comes from real-world, on-farm data. This study involved interviewing farmers who have successfully implemented a soil health management system to obtain information on their management practices, yield, and other production experiences. To evaluate their economics, SHI’s Agricultural Economist used partial budget analysis to compare expenses and returns in a soil health management system compared to a conventional management system.

You can register for the webinar here.

“Several management practices that improve soil health also increase carbon storage in soils, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce nutrient runoff and leaching,” Honeycutt said. “However, investing in new management practices is also a business decision for farmers. Until now, there hasn’t been such a comprehensive study that provides the economic information farmers need when deciding whether to adopt soil health practices. By closing this knowledge gap in the nine states where 71 percent of the corn and 67 percent of the soybean are grown in the U.S., we can scale up these benefits for farmers and the environment.”

Given the current adoption rates of no-till and cover crops in the U.S., the study indicates that many other farmers may improve their profitability by adopting soil health management systems.

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