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Soil Health - What about the economics?

A new research study “Economic dimensions of soil health practices that sequester carbon: promising research directions”, examines costs and benefits of soil health practices that sequester carbon.

Conservation practices that improve soil health are becoming more important as climate change increases. The USDA Northeast Climate Hub has gathered a team of economists and soil health scientists focusing on the economic decisions made by farmers. Specifically, they are examining the carbon sequestration benefits of establishing soil health practices on agricultural soils.

Practices such as cover cropping, tillage management, crop rotations, and nutrient management can impact soil health. Soil health is related to the amount of carbon stored within these soils. Private economic benefits often need to outweigh the cost for a farmer to adopt a certain soil health practice. Mitigating the cost to the farmer may provide incentives for installing soil health farming practices.

Lead author Dr. Rejesus of North Carolina State University published the paper in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. The paper explores current economic research literature  associated with adopting soil health practices. As highlighted in the paper, the majority of the current literature on the economics of soil health practices focuses on the farmers’ (private) benefits and costs. Research on specific soil health practices primarily looks at cover cropping and no-till management systems.

Although these studies have useful data on soil health effects, they lack information on costs and profits. This type of long-term economic outcome data can help determine potential incentives for farmers. Understanding the motivations for adopting proper soil health management strategies could increase adoption. Different cost-share payment programs may affect what soil health practices are adopted, and how these programs may interact with other government-supported programs. Adequately determining the best incentivization for farmers in soil health practices may help reduce climate change impacts while also creating a positive economic impact for the agriculture industry.


by Sarah K. Lunn, Intern with NRCS and USDA Northeast Climate Hub