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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” row crop farmers and almond growers and communicate the results in compelling and easy-to-read two-page case studies. We are sharing these methods with our fellow ag conservation professionals in a “soil health tool kit” so they can conduct their own analyses of producers in their area who have successfully adopted soil health practices and produce their own case studies.

Resources

Fill out the form below for FREE access to the Row Crop and Almond Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator (R-SHEC) Tool and associated materials, known as the Soil Health Tool Kit. With this Tool Kit, 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 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 crop production systems ​, and
  • Focuses only on variables affected by these changes​.

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

AFT’s criteria for “soil health successful” producers that are appropriate for the PBA and for featuring in a case study: 

  • Are those who have implemented one or more of the following soil health practices (e.g., no-till, reduced tillage, cover crops, conservation crop rotation, nutrient management, conservation cover, compost application, and mulching),  
  • For between four and 15 years, and have
  • Positive economic effects they’ve observed, want us to quantify, and want to share with others.   

Water Quality Methods: Perez developed data collection forms and guidance documents 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 ag conservation professionals to quantify the benefits and costs of soil health practice adoption experienced by “already soil health successful” row crop farmers and almond growers. AFT used this calculator to develop the partial budget analysis tables featured in the Retrospective Soil Health Case Studies.

Learn More

Case Study Methods: Five AFT staff identified the “soil health successful” producers, conducted the interviews, implemented the economic, water quality, and climate methods, and wrote the case studies. Each producer 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.

Review: Each AFT Retrospective Soil Health 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 our fellow conservationists use the existing economic and environmental case studies and produce their own. Conservation partners at NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), Extension, farm and environmental organizations, watershed groups ag retailers, crop consultants, cover crop seed dealers, strip-till equipment providers, and corporations with supply chain sustainability goals, etc. could use these case studies with their farmer customers as outreach and education materials 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.

To help our fellow conservationists produce their own case studies featuring “soil health successful” producers in their area, we have provided all the materials we used in a Soil Health Case Study Tool Kit. Our hope is that a “soil health successful” producer can be found in every farm county in the country and an economic and environmental case study can be produced about them, showing the other “soil health curious” producers in that county, that “it can be done here too.” The Tool Kit includes two training session syllabi and presentation slide decks that pair with the training videos linked below. These training sessions walk you step-by-step through the Tool Kit resources for producing either a row crop or almond retrospective soil health case study.

 

Training Videos

Below are recordings from two trainings on: (1) producing a Row Crop Retrospective Soil Health Case Study using the Tool Kit at the 75th Soil and Water Conservation Society International Annual Conference and (2) producing an Almond Retrospective Soil Health Case Study using the Tool Kit for an AFT-Almond Board of California webinar for almond conservation professionals that walk through the methods and Tool Kit materials AFT developed for this project.

How to Produce a Row Crop Retrospective Soil Health Case Study

A six-part series for fellow ag conservation professionals and farmers who want to learn how to conduct retrospective economic, water quality, and climate analyses of already "soil health successful" row crop (wheat, corn, soybeans, hay) farmers using the Soil Health Tool Kit.

How to Produce an Almond Retrospective Soil Health Case Study

A six-part series for almond-orchard conservation professionals 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 Soil Health Tool Kit.

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 (Director, NRCS Soil Health Division) and 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 Thomas, Justin 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 producers and conservationists than could be accomplished by AFT’s efforts alone