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24. Maria Bowman & Vincent Gauthier – Why Digging Into Farm Financial Data Makes a Difference in Conservation Agriculture

Cover crops, Industry partnerships, Tillage

Conservation practices sound nice…but what is the financial impact?

That is a question we get asked about a lot. While there’s a lot of discussion in agriculture, environmental and policy circles about implementing conservation practices, the reality is that sustainability goals have to match up with farmers’ need to run profitable operations. That is why Soil Health Partnership recently embarked on a project – in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and agricultural accounting firm K·Coe Isom – to analyze the financial impact of these practices on real, working farms.

In this episode of The People of Soil Health, host John Mesko sits down with Dr. Maria Bowman of SHP and Vincent Gauthier of EDF – lead authors on the new report, Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line – to discuss their findings.

“There’s been a lot of interest from SHP farmers, our funders, and our partners to do more work to understand some of these financial challenges and opportunities related to soil health practices and conservation practices,” Bowman said. “Although we already collect some economic and management data from farmers at SHP, we are still a long way from getting very precise information about farm budgets across all of our farms. I had already had some conversations with Vincent and Maggie Monast about the work that EDF was doing and some of the work [they were] interested in doing. I knew that they shared our take on the need to do a deep dive into the numbers to understand some of these complex systems, and the financial dynamics associated with them.”

As the project team did that deep dive into the financial records of seven Midwest farmers, they identified three big takeaways around:

“We hope that, by showing it in a full budget form like we have – showing all of the line items like we have in the report – that this will help farmers plan and have better expectations ahead of time of what the financial outcomes [of conservation practices] look like,” Gauthier said.

Check out the full episode of The People of Soil Health in the player above or in your favorite podcast app. You can also dig into the report Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line by visiting soilhealthpartnership.org/farmfinance or watching a replay of our January 2021 Soil Sessions webinar.