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Four Case Studies on Soil Health and Farm Profitability Released by American Farmland Trust

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2019 September Issue Newsletter

By Caro Roszell

Here at NOFA/Mass, we are excited that our fellow Conservation Innovation Grant Awardee, the American Farmland Trust (AFT) came out last month with some results from its case study analysis of healthy soils practices and farm profitability.

Using partial budget analysis to estimate the net economic benefits on their farms, AFT assesses the investments of four farmers in specific healthy soils practices, including tillage reduction, cover cropping, nutrient management, and applications of mulch and cover crops. They also used tracking and modeling tools from USDA to estimate water quality and environmental benefits.

There is very little economic analysis of healthy soils practices available at present, which makes this research valuable for farmers who are trying to project how healthy soils practices will affect the financial sustainability of their farm operations. AFT hopes that these case studies “will be useful to farmers and landowners who are curious about soil health practices” and will “give them confidence that investing in the practices is worth the risk.”

worms in dirtFarmers in the four case studies saw increased yields (2-22%), a reduction in fertilizer costs ($17-$66 per acre, mainly from reduced phosphorous and potassium applied), and an average saving on machinery, fuel and labor costs of $26/acre. The farmers also reported an average net income increase of $42 per acre per year. Of course, these are large-scale farming operations producing corn, soybeans and almonds so profitability gains, while low on a per-acre basis, add up for these growers.

According to USDA modeling tools, the soil health practices implemented reduced “nitrogen losses from 40 to 98%; phosphorus losses from 74 to 92%; and sediment losses from 76 to 96%” and total greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by an estimated “16 to 560%, which corresponds to taking between ¾ of a car to 17 cars off the road. ”

To read more about this AFT-NRCS collaborative project, visit American Farmland Trust’s website, “Quantifying Economic and Environmental Benefits of Soil Health

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