Soil Health Economics: Measuring & Validating the Economic Benefits & Costs of Soil Health Practices

The need to understand the economic benefits of soil health and conservation practices that promote soil health is receiving greater attention as recognition grows concerning the importance of soil health in conservation policy. One of the primary reasons farmers cite for not adopting conservation practices is the lack of credible information about the economics of these practices.

In the fall of 2015, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded a Conservation Innovation Grant to Farm Foundation, NFP to examine the economics of soil health. Farm Foundation has contracted with Purdue University to lead a three-year project to gather and organize economic data related to conservation practices that promote soil health.

Data will be collected from whole fields–rather than strip trials–to build a data set that can be used to assess the long-term economic and environmental consequences of adopting cover crops and no-till conservation practices.  The project has three specific objectives:

1) Develop and institutionalize best practices for economic data collection and analysis.
2) Pilot the use of best practices for economic analysis of soil health management by collection and analyzing field-level economic and agronomic data.
3) Disseminate to farmers economic information on the benefits and costs of improving soil health to help accelerate the adoption of conservation practices.

Wally Tyner, James and Lois Ackerman Professor of Agricultural Economic at Purdue University, is heading up the study, which will focus on farms in central and northeast Indiana. Only farms with corn-corn or corn-soybean rotations on the targeted fields will be accepted.  For the study, farmers must provide five years of historic data on five fields. Data will also be supplied for the three years of project operations, resulting in eight years of total data.  Both cover crop and non-cover crop farms and fields are needed.  Ideally, the study core will include one-third cover crop and two-thirds non-cover crop fields.

Also partnering with Farm Foundation on this project are the CHS Foundation, the Iowa Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association’s Soil Health Partnership, the Conservation Technology Information Center, and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.

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