The benefits of healthy soil include numerous advantages to farmers but also extend well beyond the farmstead.
Soil health initiatives also offer consultants a tool to improve farm profitability.
Cristine Morgan, chief science officer, Soil Health Institute, explained the value of healthy soils at the recent Texas Plant Protection Association’s annual meeting in Bryan, Texas.
Off farm advantages include several environmental enhancements that benefit society at large, Morgan said. Healthy farm soils help draw down atmospheric carbon, improve water quality and water cycling, improve society’s understanding of agriculture, and may tap into an ecosystem service market.
The benefits to farmers are long-term and economically sustainable. She said on-farm benefits include yield resilience, trafficability (improved soil structure), drought resilience, nutrient use efficiency, water use efficiency, erosion control, and improved surface water quality.
“Soil health can also improve the economic bottom line for farmers,” Morgan said. “Mounting evidence shows that improvements in soil health improves farming outcomes, but on-farm adoption of soil health systems lags.”
She offered an analysis of how soil health practices improve the bottom line for cotton farms. A partial budget analysis considered a seven-year study of a 2,000-acre Southern High Plains cotton farm. Conservation practices included no-till and cover crops on a sandy loam soil.
Those efforts resulted in eliminating nine tillage trips. Reduced inputs also included fertilizer and amendments ($14), pesticides ($10.50), fuel and electricity ($20.81), labor and services ($26.42), and equipment ownership costs ($47.45). Total expense reductions equal $119.48.
Added expenses for conservation practices included seed costs ($10), pesticides ($7.50), round module covers ($1.67), fuel and electricity ($10.11), labor and services ($10.28), and equipment ownership ($11.84). Total added expenses equal $51.40.
Morgan said the study showed additional revenue of $100 per acre. Total revenue change was a $67 increase.
The total benefits included $186.48 in reduced expenses compared to $51.40 additional expenses for the switch to conservation practices. Change in net farm income was an increase of $135.08 per acre.
“Every soil can be healthy,” Morgan said. “Healthy soils function better.”
She said improving soil health offers crop consultants opportunities to provide more value to their customers. “We are working with consultants to see how soil health can become part of their service,” she said. “Benefits to consultants could include improved profitability, improved market share, and increased market share.”