American Farmland Trust launched online access to the methods, tools, and training resources they used in developing case studies featuring soil health successful farmers in its Quantifying the Economic and Environmental Benefits of Soil Health project funded by a USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant.
Becoming all the more evident this year, farmers face enormous challenges. Extreme weather, a trade war, and pandemic-related market disruptions have made it difficult for many to make a living. In a normal season, farmers work just to maintain yield, keep costs under control, and try to improve the profitability of their operations. And, now we are asking farmers to respond to society’s call to improve environmental outcomes like water quality and help to mitigate climate change. Soil health practices like cover crops, no-till, and nutrient management can help address these challenges. However, despite farmers’ belief in the science underpinning the practices, they are often reluctant to change management techniques without knowing how much the practices will cost and what the financial benefits will be.
“AFT encourages our fellow conservationists to use this suite of tools and training resources to produce their own case studies demonstrating the economic and environmental benefits of soil health,” said Michelle Perez, AFT water director. “Our hope is that farmers, who have been considering adopting soil health practices, will find the economic evidence quantified for a farmer in their area, sufficiently compelling, to get them to ‘say yes’ to trying the soil health practices.”
Specifically, partners will be able to use AFT’s Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator (R-SHEC) Tool, an 11-tab Excel-spreadsheet tool, to evaluate the costs and benefits of soil health conservation practices including no-till or reduced tillage, cover cropping, nutrient management and conservation crop rotation on row crop farms that have adopted any combination of the practices, ideally for more than four years and within the last 10 years. The tool presents the net economic benefits in a partial budget analysis table and an estimate of the Return on Investment, or ROI, in the soil health practices. The R-SHEC Tool and the case studies that AFT published underwent a review by five NRCS Economists, five NRCS Soil Health Specialists, three university economists, among other experts.
Materials explain how to use the R-SHEC and how to identify and interview a soil health successful farmer to obtain the data needed to run the tool. Additional resources are provided to instruct conservationists how to estimate the water quality and climate benefits associated with the already adopted soil health practices using USDA’s Nutrient Tracking Tool and USDA’s COMET-Farm Tool, and then how to assemble all the findings and present them in a compelling two-page case study. A six-part series of training videos provides instructions on each aspect of the process. To access the methods, tools and videos, click here.
In spring and summer 2021, AFT will release several new tools:
- An almond version of the R-SHEC tool that aids estimation of the economic effects of almond-specific soil health practices such as conservation cover, nutrient management, mulching, and compost application.
- A Predictive Soil Health Economic Calculator (P-SHEC) Tool that will enable conservationists to partner with farmers who are “on the fence” about soil health practices to estimate the potential short-term and long-term economic effects of an investment in practices which will hopefully give the farmers the information they need to overcome their apprehension.
- An online, user-friendly, web-based version of the R-SHEC Tool.