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February 26th, 2020

American Farmland Trust and USDA NRCS release two new examples of how soil health practices increase farm profitability in Ohio and Illinois

Evidence builds for economic and environmental benefits of soil health efforts, creating a library of on-farm examples for use by farmers and service providers across the country. 

DEKALB, Ill. — Today, American Farmland Trust, the organization behind the national movement No Farms No Food®, is releasing two new Midwest-focused “Accelerating Soil Health” case studies, adding to two Midwest-focused studies released in July 2019, to assist farmers who are curious about soil health and technical service providers who want to help farmers adopt soil health practices. This work continues to show that healthier soil on farmland brings economic benefits to farmers and environmental benefits to society. These case studies were developed in partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service under a Conservation Innovation Grant that also features two case studies from California and two case studies from New York.

From farmers, to retailers, to the supply chain and even presidential candidates, there is recognition that adopting soil health practices, like cover crops, no-till, strip-till, nutrient management, mulching and compost application, is critical to improving environmental outcomes on farms. Healthier soils can result in increased agricultural profitability, reduced sediment and nutrient losses, and make agriculture communities more resilient to extreme weather conditions. Through AFT’s farmer outreach and education events, AFT has learned farmers believe the scientific evidence that soil health practices improve soil and water quality. Yet adoption has been low due to perceived financial risk of trying something new, the risk of investment on rented lands and lack of information about how much the soil health practices will cost or benefit them. So, AFT set out to find what we call, “soil health successful farmers,” and with their permission conducted an economic analysis of their soil health journey.

State Conservationist for Illinois NRCS, Ivan Dozier says, “I’m happy to see more farmers embrace recent changes in agriculture and weave long-term conservation concepts into the way they run their operations. This is what our agency has pursued since the 1930’s. It can be hard to step back, to re-evaluate and even question what we’ve done for years or even decades. Change is hard. Some conservation strategies are complicated and challenging. But these farm families have taken the challenge head on. They’ve courageously used new practices, programs and innovative thinking to find success—in both their soil and their bottom line.”

Brian Brandt, AFT Agricultural Innovations Director says, “There has been great interest and desire from farmers and conservation professionals to see real world results from implementing soil health practices, especially cover crops. These case studies provide the much needed evidence. In addition, we hope the case studies give more farmers confidence to take the next step and begin trying more of these practices on their farms so they can reap the benefits.”

Emily Bruner, PhD, Midwest Research Director says, “Investment in conservation requires dedication to finding the right suite of practices on a field by field basis at a time when profit margins are tighter than ever. These case studies reveal that by reducing inputs and keeping the soil covered, Midwest farmers can simultaneously increase profits and soil function, demonstrating that the investment is worth it.”

Acting State Conservationist for Ohio, Jon Bourdon says, “These case studies provide NRCS with a greater understanding of the economic benefits of implementing a soil health management system and will benefit our conservation planners.  Most farmers want to be good stewards of the land, but the economic uncertainty of adopting new practices often proves challenging. This new information will help farmers make informed decisions and will result in healthier soil.”

The two-page Midwest-focused case studies released today, which represent the second installment of work under the “Accelerating Soil Health Adoption by Quantifying Economic and Environmental Outcomes and Overcoming Barriers on Rented Lands” project, feature:

  • Jim, Julie and Josh Ifft, Illinois corn and soybean farmers implementing no-till and cover crops
  • Dan Lane, an Ohio corn and soybean farmer implementing strip-till with banded dry fertilizer and cover crops

Farmers featured in the case studies released in July 2019 were:

  • Larry, Adam and Beth Thorndyke, Illinois corn and soybean farmers implementing cover crops, strip-till and no-till, and nutrient management
  • Eric Niemeyer, an Ohio corn and soybean farmer implementing no-till, cover crops and nutrient management

Combined results from all eight case studies are featured on the Findings page of the project website and highlight yield and income benefits, input benefits and environmental benefits.

Information for Farmers and Conservation Service Providers:

Midwest farmers can reach out to their local NRCS and Soil and Water Conservation District staff to help them implement soil health practices on their farm. In the watersheds featured in the case studies, farmers can also reach out to the AFT case study authors:

AFT will be hosting online webinars to offer trainings to fellow conservationists and farmers who want to learn how to conduct the partial budget economic analysis used in this project. Please email SHTraining@farmland.org with your interest in the training webinars and we will share the webinar details.

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American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that 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 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres and supported thousands of farm families.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) mission is “Helping People Help the Land.” NRCS helps America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment.