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Soil Health Partnership Research Shows the Economic Advantages of Conservation Practices

May 12, 2021

The Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here tour checks in with the Soil Health Partnership (SHP) today for an in-depth look into farm finances and the advantages of using conservation practices. The SHP is a sustainability program of the National Corn Growers Association and Iowa Corn, and it collects on-farm agronomic and economic data to evaluate the impacts of conservation practices on the soil, environment and farmer’s bottom line.

The SHP recently released a report, “Conservation's Impact on the Farm Bottom Line,” which studied how conservation practices affect farm finances at the production level. By examining several different growers across a range of geographies and farm sizes, SHP studied the agronomic and economic impacts of adopting soil health practices, like cover crops and reduced tillage.

“All farmers and landowners should be investing in conservation practices that improve soil health and water quality and those decisions have to align with the farm’s finances,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “I am grateful the Soil Health Partnership has done the research and the math to help farmers incorporate the conservation practices that are right for their fields and their bottom lines.”

While outcomes varied between growers, the research demonstrated economic advantages to using conservation tillage, including no-till, strip till or reduced tillage, relative to conventional tillage. Farmers who participated in the study averaged a net return of $377/acre of corn when using conservation tillage, and $324/acre of corn on conventionally-tilled fields. Soybean farmers reported average net returns of $251/acre when using conservation tillage and $216/acre on conventionally-tilled fields.

Along with a smart conservation tillage program, introducing cover crops in a targeted, stepwise approach with clear goals in mind can yield benefits to the grower. Plus, the economic benefits of cover crop adoption can increase as the farmer’s experience grows. Experienced cover crop adopters show substantially higher net revenue ($251/acre) than recent adopters ($123/acre).

This week’s Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here stop features several farmers who participated in the study. Southwestern Iowa farmer Chris Gaesser is making soil health a priority on each acre of his operation. Gaesser’s goal is to make the cover crop program cost-effective and realistic for a large acreage operation.

Central Iowa farmer Roger Zylstra will also be on The Big Show speaking about his operation and how economics play a major factor in designing a soil health program on his farm. Eastern Iowa farmer Mark Mueller will talk about the importance of soil health for the long-term sustainability of his operation and how making the right economic decisions help drive long-term success.

The report, “Conservation's Impact on the Farm Bottom Line,” was produced in collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund and ag accounting firm K•Coe Isom. To learn more about the SHP, visit

About the Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here Campaign

The campaign, created by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Soybean Association and Newsradio 1040 WHO aims to raise awareness about the conservation work underway all across Iowa. It also highlights opportunities for both rural and urban residents to use soil health and water quality best practices, and play an active role in conservation projects happening in their communities.

During the Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here campaign, The Big Show will visit locations throughout the state showcasing the people and practices that are having a positive and measurable impact on water quality. The conversations with farmers, landowners, agribusinesses and community leaders will be broadcast on Wednesdays during The Big Show airing from 11 a.m.–1 p.m. on WHO and 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m. on WMT.

The Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here campaign is a collaborative effort between a dozen public and private partners, including Agri-Drain, Hagie Manufacturing, Hands on Excavating, Heartland Co-op, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Montag Manufacturing, Practical Farmers of Iowa, The Nature Conservancy and TruTerra.

The Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here campaign began in August 2020 and highlighted 16 conservation projects throughout the harvest season. For more information about the campaign, upcoming stops, and rural and urban soil health and water quality practices, visit For assistance implementing conservation practices or to get involved in a community-based project, visit a nearby USDA Service Center or Soil and Water Conservation District office.

For More Information:

Contact: Keely Coppess

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