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Soil Health Case Study Methods and Tool Kit

AFT’s Soil Health Case Study Project developed four methods to evaluate the economic, water quality, and climate outcomes experienced by “soil health successful farmers” (those who have had four or more years of economic success using one or more soil health practice) and communicate the results in compelling and easy-to-read two-page case studies. We are sharing these methods with our fellow conservationists in a “tool kit” in the hopes that they conduct their own analyses of farmers in their area who have successfully adopted soil health practices and produce their own case studies.


Fill out the form below for FREE access to the Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator and the 19 associated training materials used in this project. With these materials, you will be equipped to create your own case studies. Filling out the form will also allow us to contact you with updates to the resources.

Economic Methods: AFT’s Consulting Economist (retired NRCS-NY Economist) Florence Swartz, developed the economic methods for the AFT Soil Health Case Studies based on her two New York case studies and the NRCS Cover Crops Economics Tool, in collaboration with AFT’s Project Leader, Michelle Perez. The AFT Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator is an 11-tab excel spreadsheet tool that helps conservationists conduct a partial budget analysis (PBA) and generate a PBA table. The partial budget analysis:

  • Compares costs and benefits “before” & “after” soil health practice implementation
  • Estimates the economic effect of changes in a farming operation ​
  • Focuses only on variables affected by these changes​

The primary effects or changes analyzed by the Calculator include machinery, fertilizer, pesticide, yield, erosion repair, and learning costs.

Water Quality Methods: Perez developed materials for the AFT Staff Team to use the Nutrient Tracking Tool to estimate the nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment reduction benefits from the farmer crop fields attributable to the adoption of soil health practices.

Climate Methods: Perez developed materials for the AFT Staff Team to use the COMET-Farm Tool to estimate the greenhouse gas reduction benefits associated with the adoption of soil health practices.

Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator

This Excel-based calculator was developed for conservationists to quantify the benefits and costs of soil health practice adoption experienced by “already soil health successful farmers.” AFT used this calculator to develop the partial budget analysis tables featured in the case studies.

Learn More

Case Study Methods: Five AFT staffers identified the “soil health successful farmers,” conducted the interviews, and wrote the case studies. Each farmer agreed to a 1.5-hour interview for the authors to attain information for the economic analysis and a 1.5-hour interview to attain information for the water quality and climate analyses. Data-collection forms were developed for the economic, water quality, and climate interviews. 

Review: Each case study underwent extensive review by NRCS economists, NRCS soil health specialists, and university economists. The NTT and COMET-Farm data entry and results were also reviewed by NTT specialists at USDA Office of Environmental Markets and Tarleton State University and COMET specialists at Colorado State University. 

Tool Kit: AFT hopes that conservation partners at NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), Extension, farm and environmental organizations, and watershed groups plus partners in the private sector (ag retailers, crop consultants, cover crop seed dealers, strip-till equipment providers, and corporations with supply chain sustainability goals, etc.) use these case studies with their farmer customers to help answer questions about the costs and benefits of adopting soil health practices. To aid use of the existing case studies by our fellow conservationists in their own presentations to farmers at outreach and education events, in the Tool Kit we provide: (1) copies of the case studies formatted for professional printing (i.e., photos bleed to the edge of the page) and (2) PowerPoint slides providing talking points about the existing case studies. 

We also hope that this conservation community considers downloading the entire toolkit to learn how to conduct their own economic and environmental analyses of soil health successful farmers in their own area and produce more case studies themselves.  

Below are recordings from a training at the 75th Soil and Water Conservation Society International Annual Conference that share methods and materials AFT developed for this project.

Many Thanks!

AFT is grateful for the:  

  • Farmers featured in each case study for sharing their soil health story with us and for sharing their time and their information
  • The AFT Staff Team for finding the farmers, interviewing them, inputting the economic, water quality, and climate data into the R-SHEC, NTT, and COMET-Farm toolsrunning the analyses, and writing the case studies: Justin Bodell (CA), Brian Brandt (OH), Emily Bruner (IL), Paul Lum (CA), and Aaron Ristow (NY) 
  • The NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) that made this work possible
  • Lauren Cartwright and Bryon Kirwan for their great work developing the NRCS Cover Crops Economics tool and questionnaire, which formed the basis of the R-SHEC tool and questionnaire, and for their guidance, feedbackand support 
  • Mindy Selman (USDA Office of Environmental Markets) and Dr. Ali Saleh (Tarleton State Universityfor the training, troubleshooting, and review they provided of our NTT results
  • Mark Easter, Haley Nagle, and Matt Stermer (Colorado State University) for the training, troubleshooting, and review they provided of our COMET-Farm results  
  • Reviews of each farmer case study and the associated calculators and questionnaires that were led by Bianca Moebius-Clune (DirectorNRCS Soil Health Divisionand Lynn Knight (Co-Director of the USDA Northeast Climate Hub and Regional Economist with NRCS East National Technology Support Center), including: 
    • Five NRCS Economists – Bryon Kirwan (Illinois State Economist), Lakeitha Ruffin (Oregon State Economist),Richard Iovanna (FPAC Economist), Sophia Glenn (FPAC Economist), and Sarah Cline (FPAC Economist) 
    • Five NRCS Soil Health Specialists: Kabir Zahangir (West Regional), James Hoorman (NE Regional), Candy ThomasJustin Morris, and Barry Fisher
    • Three university economists: John Hanchar (Cornell Cooperative Extension), Gary Schnitkey (University of Illinois), and Brent Sohngen (Ohio State University) 
  • USDA NRCS for putting its logo on the case studies so they may reach and be useful to many more farmers and conservationists than could be accomplished by AFT’s efforts alone

Training Videos

Row-Crop Retrospective Soil Health Tool Kit

A six-part series for fellow conservation service providers and farmers who want to learn how to conduct Retrospective economic, water quality, and climate analyses of already "soil health successful" row-crop farmers using the current Soil Health Tool Kit.

Coming Soon: Almond Retrospective Soil Health Tool Kit

UPCOMING: A six-part series for almond-orchard conservation service providers and almond growers who want to learn how to conduct Retrospective economic, water quality, and climate analyses of already "soil health successful" almond growers using the soon-to-be-released Almond Soil Health Tool Kit.