Measuring the profitability of conservation agriculture
Published: January 25, 2021 by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF+Business)
Agricultural conservation practices like conservation tillage, cover crops and nutrient management provide many environmental benefits including improved water quality, reduced soil erosion, improved soil health and carbon sequestration.
Despite these well-known environmental benefits, the use of conservation practices in the U.S. remains relatively low, with no-till being used on 26.3% of U.S. cropland and cover crops on only 3.9%.
Expanding on-farm conservation practices requires closing the information gap on the financial impact these practices have on farm revenue, operating costs and long-term profitability.
To help close this information gap, EDF worked with a number of researchers in conservation agriculture to publish A practitioner’s guide to conducting budget analyses for conservation agriculture [PDF]. The guide is designed to support other researchers, academics, conservation nonprofits and any organizations interested in measuring the farm financial outcomes of agricultural conservation practices.
The guide is informed by a thorough review of 33 farm budget case studies and five multi-farm analyses that examined conservation adoption, in addition to input from leading experts on conservation agriculture and farm financial management.
Integrating the lessons in this guide to strengthen financial accounting of conservation practices could support higher adoption of these practices, ultimately boosting agricultural resilience and supporting long-term productivity.
The guide was designed to support a wide range of practitioners interested in understanding, researching and communicating the farm financial implications of conservation practices. It can easily be adapted to specific needs, objectives and limitations.
The guide is especially useful for the following practitioner groups and their conservation objectives:
- Conservation and producer organizations looking to support their conservation advocacy and farmer technical assistance with financial solutions and information.
- Agribusinesses looking to enhance their agronomic and financial services with conservation practice data.
- Universities and extensions looking to expand the literature on financial impacts of adopting conservation agriculture practices and provide their states with production budget estimates of conservation tillage, cover crop, nutrient management and diverse rotation production systems.
The guide includes a checklist of key methodological considerations in preparing for and conducting conservation agriculture budget analyses.
The guide can also be used as a decision support tool for key junctures in executing a robust analysis. Each key issue presented includes a presentation of different methodological options, best practices and adjustments based on the objectives.
Finally, the guide functions as a collection of resources that can help researchers as they consider different methods, by presenting examples and lessons learned from existing studies.
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