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Economics of Soil Health

A Soil Renaissance workshop Sept. 21-22, 2015, brought more than 100 economists, researchers and practitioners together to discuss the economics of soil health. The multidisciplinary workshop was a collaboration of Farm Foundation, NFP and USDA’s Economic Research Service.

While much attention is being directed to soil health, little work has been done on the economics of soil and soil health.  This workshop laid the foundation for an ongoing program of research on the economics of soil health. The participants—from government, foundations, non-profits, academia and the private sector—gathered to learn about and discuss the science and economics of soil health. Through 14 presentations, 5 posters, and 3 group discussion sessions, the workshop explored the economics of soil health.

Highlights of the workshop:

Key takeaways from the workshop:
The economics perspective on soil health focuses on:

The soil science perspective on soil health focuses on:

The policy perspective on soil health focuses on:

Going forward, economists and soil scientists can employ diverse research methods to tackle soil health research questions by:

As authors gave permission, presentations from the workshop are shared here:

Session 1: Economics of Soil Health

Economics of Soil Health: A Conceptual Framework
Erik Lichtenberg, University of Maryland

Economics of Soil Health: Existing Research
Rick Farnsworth, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Conservation Practice Adoption in U.S. Agriculture: What can we learn from ARMS?
Roger Claassen, USDA Economic Research Service

Session 2: Science of Soil Health, Part 1
Jerry Hatfield, USDA Agricultural Research Service

Bianca Moebius-Clune, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Session 3: Science of Soil Health, Part 2
Data Needs for Economic Analysis/Empirical Challenges Wally Tyner, Purdue University
Integrated Agricultural Landscapes through Precision Business Planning
David Muth, AgSolver

Conservation Effects Assessment Project Cropland Survey & Modeling System
Jay Atwood, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Session 4: Soil Health and Public Policy
Crop Insurance and Soil Health
Barry Barnett, Mississippi State University

U.S. Farm Programs, Conservation & Soil Health
Katina Hanson, U.S. Farm Service Agency

Applications of High Resolution Soil Data in Crop Insurance Rating and Yield Distribution Estimation
Josh Woodard, Cornell University

Session 5: Valuing Soil–Almost Three
Jim Moseley, AGree

Session 6: What do we want to do with the data? What are the priority research topics?
Steven Wallendar, USDA Economic Research Service

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations designated 2015 the “International Year of Soils.” Farm Foundation, in collaboration with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, is leading the Soil Renaissance, a multi-year endeavor to focus attention on the role of healthy soils in feeding a growing world while maintaining and protecting natural resources.  The economics of soil health is one pillar of the Soil Renaissance, along with measurement, research and education. For updates on the work, visit the Soil Renaissance website.

USDA showcased the importance of soils to food security and maintaining of critical ecosystems as part of its IYS kickoff events in January. Soil health is also a major focus of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service through its program, Unlocking the Secrets in the Soil. This focus on soil health emphasizes how soil as a complex, living ecosystem supports agricultural production and provides public and private ecosystem services. Yet little work has been done on the economics of soil and soil health.

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