Making ‘Cents’ of Soil Health Practices

We all know that soil health practices make sense from a conservation perspective. But do they also make “cents,” or dollars for that matter, from a financial point of view? This will be one of many topics of discussion at this year’s Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference coming up January 19 and 20. Cover crop pioneer Keith Berns tells SFN he’ll be providing a comprehensive look at the economic factors behind soil health practices.

The only way it really will work for farmers if it makes economic sense as well. And so that’s why it’s titled, soil health makes sense but doesn’t make dollars. And so what we’ll be doing is we’ll be taking kind of a big picture, look at the economics of implementing soil health practices, and how that affects the farmers bottom line. And so we’ll be looking at practices like no till the adoption and integration of cover crops and then also an expanded rotation. So if you just go from corn and beans, to corn, beans and wheat and then what does that allow you to do? How does that affect the bottom line as far as both income as well as opportunities?

When considering adopting soil health practices, Berns said farmers should make sure that those practices will be able to pay for themselves

in the presentation that I’m doing, I’m not factoring in government payments or other incentives that you might get from like a carbon sequestration. Because, you know, you never know if those are going to come through or not. And these practices need to pay for themselves astronomically and not just be subsidized, you know, through an incentive program. So I think the incentives are the cherry on top. And it can be even more lucrative or more advantageous, but we’re not going to really be considering that. Because, again, these practices should pay for themselves. So, you know, as we go through the talk, not everybody’s going to adopt all the practices. So we’ll look at each one of them individually, and how that might affect the bottom line on a practice by practice basis.

And on top of that, many practices are effort based. You’ll only get as much out of it as you’re willing to put in.

It’s gonna be based on good management because there’s no doubt and there’s been stories out there in the news in the press of you know, somebody planted a cover crop and it cost them $250 an acre and lost yield and that certainly can happen, but that’s not the cover crop’s fault. That’s more of circumstances or, you know, management that wasn’t applied like it should have been. So we’re going to be looking at you know, what does it take to manage this system? Because it certainly, if you tried to implement no till cover crops, diverse rotations without also applying the appropriate management. There’s no doubt in my mind that you will lose money and you probably shouldn’t do it.