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Put soil health in consultant’s toolbox

Soil health benefits are long-term and economically sustainable.

Ron Smith, Editor

January 6, 2022

2 Min Read
Shelley E. Huguley

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.

See, Soil ‘next frontier’ to achieve carbon goal

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.

Economic benefits

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.

See, Caveats on cap-and-trade carbon markets

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.”

See, Develop strategies for healthy soil

Consultant opportunities

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.”

About the Author(s)

Ron Smith

Editor, Farm Progress

Ron Smith has spent more than 30 years covering Sunbelt agriculture. Ron began his career in agricultural journalism as an Experiment Station and Extension editor at Clemson University, where he earned a Masters Degree in English in 1975. He served as associate editor for Southeast Farm Press from 1978 through 1989. In 1990, Smith helped launch Southern Turf Management Magazine and served as editor. He also helped launch two other regional Turf and Landscape publications and launched and edited Florida Grove and Vegetable Management for the Farm Press Group. Within two years of launch, the turf magazines were well-respected, award-winning publications. Ron has received numerous awards for writing and photography in both agriculture and landscape journalism. He is past president of The Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association and was chosen as the first media representative to the University of Georgia College of Agriculture Advisory Board. He was named Communicator of the Year for the Metropolitan Atlanta Agricultural Communicators Association. Smith also worked in public relations, specializing in media relations for agricultural companies. Ron lives with his wife Pat in Denton, Texas. They have two grown children, Stacey and Nick, and two grandsons, Aaron and Hunter.

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