Farm Foundation, NFP
The lack of specific information about the economics of conservation practices has often been cited as a major barrier to the adoption of practices to improve soil health and address other related environmental concerns. The following objectives have been designed to address this problem by gathering economic information from farmers, research trials and relevant literature on the long-term economic impacts of conservation practices such as no-till, minimum tillage, cover crops and other practices that improve soil health. This information will be integrated into decision support tools and communicated to farmers to enable them to make more informed decisions regarding the health of their soil.
A goal of the Soil Renaissance is to quantify the effects of soil health on economic risks and returns.
Objectives and strategies:
1. Evaluate the current state of research on the economics of soil health and identify key economic data needs.
- Support public and private funding of soil health economics analysis activities.
- Create a soil health economics network and an advisory committee to improve the development and dissemination of economic information.
- Review the literature on the economics of soil health and conservation practice cost data from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), to determine gaps in knowledge about the economics of soil health.
- Commission a white paper that examines the economic incentives needed for the adoption of conservation and production practices that support soil health.
2. Develop comprehensive analysis of returns to soil health investments and their effects on risk.
- Convene leading soil scientists and agricultural economists to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the role of soil health investments.
- Identify pilot farms for data collection activities to record medium- and long-term economic data related to soil conservation practices.
- Create standards and metrics for estimating the status of soil health for use in conservation planning.
- Conduct pilot data collection project with cooperating farmers.
- Institutionalize data collection protocols and conduct statistical analyses of test results.
3. Provide producers with information and tools for determining the economic value of soil health management decisions.
- Develop guidelines on the conditions under which different soil health practices are economically viable and estimate projected long-term payoff of these practices.
- Develop and test a decision-making modeling tool for farmers. Disseminate information and promote use of this decision-making tool.
April 2015: There is great interest in the economic aspects of soil health, but little research has been done on the topic. The first priority of the Economics Work Group is establishment of a consortium to build a quality database of farm-level data. This public-private partnership will recruit farmers to provide specific field data over a two- to five-year period. Initial discussions are underway, with collection of data expected to begin within a year.
The Work Group also seeks to identify existing decision tools, as well as tools that need to be developed, to support producers in soil health management. Evaluation criteria are being developed to assess existing economic decision tools.
A second focus of the Work Group is to build understanding of what the advancement of soil health will mean for the entire food and agriculture value chain. As part of this effort, the Work Group is participating in discussions of the Conservation and Crop Insurance Task Force of AGree.
The final area of work for the Economics Work Group is policy analysis and education—how conservation and soil health practices could factor into crop insurance, for example.
September, 2014: Work is focused on development of a Soil Health Economics Network and Advisory Committee. The initial task is completion of a review of literature on soil health economics.