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SHI deciphers soil health economics

Nonprofit agency will unveil findings on 100 farms during Sept. 30 webinar.

The Soil Health Institute (SHI), a non-profit organization aiming to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soils, will release a comprehensive report on the Economics of Soil Health on 100 Farms in a webinar on September 30 at 12 p.m. Eastern Time.

Using data collected and analyzed across 100 farms in nine states, Wayne Honeycutt, SHI’s president and chief operating officer, will elaborate on these key findings:

  • The 100 farmers interviewed represented 194,003 acres of cropland in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Tennessee.
  • The farmers used no-till on 85% of their cropland, and cover crops on 53% of their cropland. That’s well above the national average of 37% for no-till and 5% for cover crops. Farmers using cover crops in this research 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.
  • Of the farmers interviewed, 67 reported increased yield from using a soil health management system; 2% reported decreased corn yield.
  • Farmers using a soil health management system reported decreased costs in associated with growing crops: $24 per acre less for corn and $16.57 per acre less to grow soybeans.
  • Based on standardized prices, the soil health management system increased net income for these 100 farmers by an average of $51.60 per acre for corn and $44.89 per acre for soybeans.
  • Farmers also reported additional benefits of their soil health management system, such as increased resilience to extreme weather and increased access to their fields.

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 the economics, SHI’s agricultural economist used partial budget analysis to compare expenses and returns in a soil health management system compared with a conventional management system.

“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% of the corn and 67% of the soybeans 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 (37%) and cover crops (5%) in the U.S., the study indicates that many other farmers may improve profitability by adopting soil health management systems.

Click here to register for the September 30 webinar. All who register will be provided a fact sheet summarizing the results.

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