The Soil Health Institute (SHI) and Datu Research today announced a $626,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation to quantify the economic risks and rewards of soil health management systems used in farming. Management practices that improve soil health can increase resilience to drought, improve water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance sustainability. However, quantifying the economic impact of such practices is key for increasing farmer adoption, and such impacts are largely not yet quantified.
SHI will conduct a systematic review of scientific literature that evaluates economic risk and yield impacts of soil health-promoting practices, such as no-till, zone tillage, reduced tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, manure/biosolid application, and other management practices. SHI will curate this data and conduct a comprehensive analysis to determine how such factors as climatic zone, soil properties, cropping system and management practices influence soil health and economic risk relationships. Datu Research LLC, Durham, NC, will conduct focus groups to learn what risks farmers perceive in adopting cover crops, then collect actual budget data from cover crop adopters to compare perceived versus actual risks.
“Economics is a primary driver influencing adoption of soil health-promoting practices and systems. Consequently, to realize the environmental and resilience benefits of soil health management systems, the economics of such practices must be assessed, demonstrated and communicated,” explains Wayne Honeycutt, Ph.D., SHI president and CEO. “This generous grant from the Walton Family Foundation will allow us to assess and communicate how soil health management systems influence farmers’ investment risk. We believe it’s important to summarize the nation’s research, viewing the results objectively from a business perspective,” said Honeycutt. “We want to be sure that farmers have the evidence-based information they need in making their management decisions,” added Marcy Lowe, Datu CEO.
Following data curation and analysis, SHI and Datu will develop fact sheets to distribute project findings to farmers through numerous public and private partners.
“The Soil Health Institute consists of a broad collaboration of agricultural and environmental leaders that was created to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soil through scientific research and advancement,” Honeycutt said. “Studies show that increasing soil organic carbon can significantly enhance resilience of our soils, cropping systems and grazing systems to both drought and heavy precipitation. Unfortunately, most of our cultivated soils have lost approximately 20-40% of their native organic carbon, thereby increasing crop vulnerability to extreme weather events like drought. The Walton Family Foundation grant will allow us to pull the scientific evidence together and discern which management systems work best for both our agricultural producers and our environment as a whole. The on-farm surveys conducted by our partner, Datu Research, will provide much needed ground-truthing of real world economics as experienced by farmers. Collectively, this will give us a fairly complete picture of how soil health practices impact farmers’ economic risk.”