Jul 20, 2021
AFT shares Soil Health Economic Calculator with customized almond version

American Farmland Trust, the organization that for 40 years has been saving the land that sustains us and works to advance the principles of regenerative agriculture, recently shared an updated AFT Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator Tool.
AFT’s Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator (R-SHEC) Tool provides farmers and the conservation community a means of evaluating the return on investment (ROI) of soil health conservation practices with 2020 price and crop data. The previous version of the tool used 2019 information. This updated pricing allows farmers to obtain a more accurate picture of the costs and benefits of their investments in soil health.

Impacts of climate change on agriculture and the need for farms to become more resilient to extreme weather are more obvious than ever before. In addition, society is asking farmers to improve environmental outcomes of agriculture, including impacts to water quality and wildlife habitat, and to sequester carbon in their soils to mitigate climate change.  Soil health practices like cover crops, no-till, nutrient management and conservation crop rotation can help address these challenges. However, despite farmers’ belief in the science underpinning the practices, they are often reluctant to change management techniques without knowing how much the practices will cost and what the financial benefits will be.

The R-SHEC Tool is part of a comprehensive set of resources available online and free of charge from AFT on the Soil Health Case Study Methods and Tool Kit webpage. The methods, tools and training resources provided are those used by AFT in developing case studies featuring soil health successful farmers in its Quantifying the Economic and Environmental Benefits of Soil Health project funded by a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant. The Tool Kit materials have all been updated for this re-release. The R-SHEC Tool allows evaluation of soil health practices adopted by row crop farmers (corn, soybeans, wheat and hay) for more than four years and within the last 15 years. The tool presents the net economic benefits in a partial budget analysis table and includes an estimate of the ROI on the soil health practices.

In addition to updating price and cost data in the tool, AFT is releasing a customized almond version to estimate the economic effects of almond-specific soil health practices such as conservation cover, nutrient management, mulching and compost application. AFT believes the Almond R-SHEC Tool is very relevant at this time given the water struggles in California, a key almond producing region and almonds being a high-water use crop.  In 2018, AFT worked with almond growers Tom and Dan Rogers and found they experienced a 25% reduction in irrigation water use which they attribute to the increased water holding capacity from the soil health practices used on their farm.

The next phase of this work, a Predictive Soil Health Economic Calculator (P-SHEC) Tool will enable conservationists to partner with farmers who are “on the fence” about soil health practices to estimate the potential short and long-term economic effects of an investment in practices, hopefully giving the farmers the information they need. This tool will be previewed at the Soil and Water Conservation Society Annual Conference to be held virtually on July 26-28. Interested parties should sign up for Workshop 2 to learn about P-SHEC. The tool will not be released publicly until the fall.

“AFT encourages our fellow conservationists to use this suite of resources and the new R-SHEC Tools released today to produce their own case studies demonstrating the economic and environmental benefits of soil health,” Michelle Perez, AFT water director, said in a news release. “Our hope is that farmers who have been considering adopting soil health practices will find the economic evidence quantified for a farmer in their area sufficiently compelling to get them to ‘say yes’ to trying soil health practices themselves.”

American Farmland Trust takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres and supported thousands of farm families.

Lori Sallet, American Farmland Trust

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