Soil health economics encompasses on-farm accounting as well as the public impacts of soil health practices. Soil health accounting requires understanding natural resource management,  investment, risk, and information analyses.

From a natural resource perspective, both public and private benefits result from ecosystem services. In turn, ecosystem services result from soil health. Soil health is determined by both natural regeneration and agricultural production practices.

Examples of ecosystem services: water flow regulation, nutrient and carbon cycling, pollutant filtering and detoxification, plant growth, microbial dynamics.

Examples of private benefits: crop and livestock yield, farm profitability, reduced flooding/ponding, longer fieldwork window, drought resilience, less yield variability.

Examples of public benefits: water quality, biodiversity and habitat, pollinators, carbon storage, reduced flooding, sustainability of agro-ecosystems, human health.

The relationships between all of these components is highly uncertain because of variability in climates, crops, and fields, and because costs and benefits develop over multiple years.

The Minnesota Office for Soil Health is part of the community of educators and researchers helping to reduce this uncertainty,  through research carried out on farms, in laboratories, and via computer modeling, and emphasizing the complexity of these relationships through stakeholder information exchanges.

In April of 2020, the Minnesota Office of Soil Health hosted its first Soil Health Economics Forum with over 80 attendees, made up mainly of government agencies employees, educators, researchers, farmers, and agricultural industry representatives.  

Participants indicated that providing farmers with financial incentives and technical support, as well as research into the links between soil and productivity were important to increase adoption of soil health practices.  Research into the ecosystem services provided by soil health practices was not viewed as important.  However, we know from a natural resource economics perspective, that the true benefit of soil health practices can be found in the public sector, as well as in the private--and that means the value from ecosystem services.

Soil Health Economics Resources

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University of Minnesota resources

  • Crop Economics 
    William Lazarus, Department of Applied Economics. 2020.
    Resources for cover crop economics, including a spreadsheet decision tool to estimate cover crops costs and return.
  • Economics of Tillage 
    Jodi DeJong-Hughes, University of Minnesota Extension. 2018.
    Cost and return of various tillage practices.
  • Soil Health Case Studies, 2018 and Soil Health Case Studies, 2020 and Soil Health Case Studies, Vol. III 2020
    Research resulting from a partnership between Southwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) Community Assistantship Program (CAP), Sustainable Farming Association, and University of Minnesota Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management (CINRAM).
  • Innovations grant funds win-win approaches to food, water 
    2017 press release for an on-going NSF grant exploring the environmental and economic impacts of soil health practices.

Farm management budget calculators

Soil health farm case studies

United States Department of Agriculture resources

Resources from other universities

Iowa State University

  • The Economics of Soil Health 
    Mahdi Al-Kaisi. 2017. Iowa State Extension and Outreach.
    Provides an overview of soil health economics and includes a research project on farm-level economic return of conservation tillage practices.
  • Center for Agricultural and Rural Development
    Iowa State University.
    Cover crop economic resources including decision tools and Iowa cover crop research.

Other universities

Economics flowchart