Soil Health Practices a Win-Win-Win for Farmers, Profit, and Planet
New study aims to boost current knowledge about soil health, which contributes to human health, environmental health, and on-farm revenue
TORONTO, March 10, 2022—A new study from the Greenbelt Foundation, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Guelph, finds that common practices to improve soil health make good business sense in Ontario. The study, titled Towards a Business Case for Soil Health: A Synthesis of Current Knowledge on the Economics of Soil Health Practices in Ontario, addresses key recommendations from The Power of Soil: An Agenda for Change to Benefit Farmers and Climate Resilience, which was released by the Greenbelt Foundation and Équiterre in 2021.
Improving soil health across the country will provide many benefits. Through shifts in farm practices, we can sustain farm incomes, strengthen food security, stabilize water cycles, contribute to human health, and conserve biodiversity."
This research finds that the broad adoption of on-farm soil heath management practices such as crop rotation, cover cropping, and reduced tillage may have an upfront cost but a significant return on investment occurs after only a few years. For example, adding wheat to a typical corn-soy rotation could cost producers an additional $9 per acre in year one. However, the compounding soil health benefits mean that by year four of the rotation, yields would be up for all crops and provide an extra $52 per acre, or approximately 25 per cent in extra profit. These profits flow directly to farmers.
Additionally, the six soil health management practices studied contribute significantly to human health and climate change mitigation by increasing soil biodiversity and capturing more carbon. Many agricultural areas of Canada are at high risk of soil erosion and other forms of degradation which may cause a net loss of CO2 into the atmosphere, have negative impacts on biodiversity, and diminish the soil microorganisms that keep us healthy.
Improving soil health across the country will provide many benefits. Through shifts in farm practices, we can sustain farm incomes, strengthen food security, stabilize water cycles, contribute to human health, and conserve biodiversity. Healthy soil practices also capture carbon to build soil organic matter and reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. According to the report, these soil health practices are “a real win-win-win for people, profit, and the planet.”
“This study aims to help build the business case for soil health on farms in southern Ontario and aid decision making by farmers and their advisors,” says Edward McDonnell, CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation. “It continues a crucial conversation on the costs and benefits of on-farm soil health practices and helps hardworking farmers find the tools and strategies that meet their needs.”
This information is important for farmers and policy makers. Farmers make decisions based on many different factors and, as businesses, the financial implication of those decisions is a very important component. Understanding the potential returns and costs can not only influence decisions, but also provide farmers with important information on how to manage the risks associated with changing practices, should they make that choice. As programs are designed to implement the Next Policy Framework for Agriculture (NPF), this type of research can inform the structure and levels of funding made available to support beneficial management practices.
"We have found that many soil health improving practices can increase farm net returns in Ontario. Not every practice works every place, but benefits build over time and can be improved by careful consideration of the unique aspects of a farm,” says Aaron De Laporte, lead author of the report and Senior Research Associate, FARE (Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics), University of Guelph. “Building the business case for soil health is an important step in encouraging adoption as it allows farmers to balance some of the upfront costs with the long-term benefits of investing in these practices."
According to the report, information about on-farm soil health practices has not been accessible to most Ontario farmers. Soils at Guelph and the Greenbelt Foundation are expected to release a series of six Soil Health Fact Sheets to help communicate the impacts of these practices to Ontario farmers. These materials will summarize the economic analysis and provide tips on how to make the most of changing to these beneficial practices.
This report was produced as part of the “Power of Soils” project in partnership with Équiterre and with the generous support of the Metcalf Foundation.
To read the report, please click HERE.
To read a Backgrounder with further information, please click HERE.
"This study is a first step in addressing one of the primary issues regarding the promotion of soil health in Canada: farmers need to know the profitability of the practice before adopting it. We hope that this important work will incentivize more of them to adopt soil health practices and see the benefits it can bring." – Colleen Thorpe, Executive Director of Équiterre.
“Healthy soil is essential for food production, environmental stewardship and the long-term sustainability and productivity of Ontario’s agri-food sector. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is committed to improving soil health, as we depend upon this valuable resource as a key to our food security to ensure Ontario has reliable access to a safe, sustainable food supply.”- Drew Spoelstra, OFA Vice President
About Greenbelt Foundation:
Greenbelt Foundation is a charitable organization, solely dedicated to ensuring the Greenbelt remains permanent, protected and prosperous. We make the right investments in its interconnected natural, agricultural, and economic systems, to ensure a working, thriving Greenbelt for all. Ontario's Greenbelt is the world's largest, with over two million acres of farmland, forests, wetlands and rivers working together to provide clean air, fresh water, and a reliable local food source.
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