CIG Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator - American Farmland Trust

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Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator

The Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator (R-SHEC) Tool is an Excel-based tool for quantifying the benefits and costs experienced by already “soil health successful” producers. AFT has released a version for row crops and one for tree nuts. 

The row crop version is designed to evaluate the economic effects of the following soil health practices:  no-till or reduced tillage, cover crops, nutrient management, and/or conservation crop rotation. The row crop R-SHEC Tool can be used on row crop farms growing barley, corn grain, corn silage, grain sorghum, hay, oats, soybeans, wheat, canola, ensilage, flaxseed, millet, mustard seed, rapeseed, rye, safflower, sugar beets, sunflower seed, and/or triticale (grain). 

The tree nut version evaluates the economic effects of cover crops, nutrient management, compost application, and mulching on almond, pistachio, or walnut crops. 

We define a “soil health successful” row crop farmer or tree nut grower as someone who has adopted any one or a combination of these practices, ideally for four or more years and within the last 15 years. 

The R-SHEC Tool employs partial budgeting analysis (PBA) to calculate changes in net income due to soil health practices. The calculator relies on user inputs and standardized cost and price information built into the tool. Data is collected through an interview with the producer using the R-SHEC Questionnaire. 

The R-SHEC Tool was developed for use in Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic states but could be used elsewhere with price or cost adjustments as needed. Net income results are displayed in a PBA table on an annual basis per acre AND for the entire study area as a weighted average. 

AFT used the R-SHEC Tool to develop the partial budget analysis for our soil health economic case studies that were first funded by a 2018-2021 Conservation Innovation Grant, “Quantifying the Economic and Environmental Benefits of Soil Health.” We continue to produce more case studies. 

Predictive Soil Health Economic Calculator Underway 

AFT is developing a Predictive Soil Health Economic Calculator (P-SHEC) Tool to use with row crop farmers interested in adopting soil health practices. The tool will help predict the potential long-term costs and benefits of adopting soil health practices (no-till, reduced till, cover crops, and nutrient management). In January 2024, AFT  began piloting the tool with farmers in Iowa and Pennsylvania. 

AFT is using innovative research techniques to estimate the relationship between increasing soil organic matter in response to soil health practice adoption and how that affects crop yield. Using a combination of crop yield, soil, and weather data, we created a model to predict the estimated change in yield from soil health practices ten years after adoption at the county level for certain states. This research will be combined with cost data to create the foundation for our Excel-based P-SHEC tool. 

The first stage of the tool will focus on rainfed corn, soybean, and wheat producers. We look forward to adding additional crops and benefit categories in the future to help more farmers better understand the potential costs and benefits of implementing soil health practices. 

Contact Us

If you have questions about these resources, please contact AFT’s Soil Health Economic Case Study project founder and Water Initiative director, Dr. Michelle Perez, at 

For assistance with troubleshooting the R-SHEC Tool, please contact Robert Ellis, an AFT agricultural economist, at  

To learn more about using the R-SHEC and producing your own partial budget analysis &/or case study, contact Lia Raz, AFT Case Study Author & Conservation Agronomist, at 

To learn more about the P-SHEC Tool progress, contact Ben Wiercinski, AFT agricultural economist, at