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Yield and ROI are not the same: How sustainable practices can help you achieve both.

Read Time: 6 minutes

By Anna Teeter April 25, 2024

The first thing farmers tend to ask concerning soil health is how it’ll reduce inputs without impacting yield. This is a valid question and particularly important as many of us were taught that yield is the most important factor on the farm. While yield is important to your ROI, would it surprise you to learn that there can be diminishing returns on things like fertilizer, “just in case” chemical applications, and multiple tillage passes? Implementing soil health practices by adapting multiple practice changes will protect the long-term productivity of your farm, not just in yield, but in your ROI as well.

Soil health practices take time to show their benefits on farm. Soils are dynamic systems that adapt over time and will pay you back when you  continue implementing regenerative practices.


The cost of soil erosion

Something that always gets me thinking about improving ROI is how to reduce the cost of soil erosion. Soil lost is a local and global concern, especially since erosion happens on topsoil which contains the highest concentration of organic matter and constitutes the most productive part of our farmlands. It’s easy to see the impact of soil erosion when comparing hills and valleys. Hill-tops generally have more shallow soils whereas valleys are where fertile topsoil accumulates. So how can you minimize soil erosion?

  • Dr. Dave Franzden breaks down the fertilizer equivalent from an inch of soil loss: The Cost of Soil Erosion.
  • Increasing water holding capacity can prevent nutrient leaching and store more available water, protecting your yield in times of drought. This is easier done in topsoil with higher organic matter (soil carbon!). Dr. Anna Cates breaks down the connection between soil organic matter and soil water here

Reduced tillage = reduced inputs

Now that we have established that protecting soil can have real dollar impacts on farm, let’s look at why reducing tillage is the most obvious way to reduce the inputs needed on your farm: 

Keep money in your pocket by implementing these conservation practices:

There are, of course, additional ways you can reduce costs while implementing conservation practices, including: 

  • Planting fewer cover crop species. While it can be fun to design multi-species mixes of cover crops, your costs can start to add up quickly if you aren’t intentional about the purpose of each species. Use a cover crop species selection tool to determine which mixtures will best address your resource concerns within your production system. 
  • Accomplishing two things at once. Determine how to combine two jobs into one pass across the field. For example, you could spread fertilizer and cover crop seed together in the fall (choose varieties that broadcast well) or add a hopper on your tillage equipment. 

As a reminder, you can access public funds to support your new practices like the USDA’s Farm Bill programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) or Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Take advantage of public dollars that can be layered with Cargill RegenConnect as this can increase your payments. Other similar voluntary carbon programs have accepted government Partnership for Climate Smart Commodities funding, which has been unclear on whether they can be combined with CSP or EQIP funding. Cargill’s privately funded RegenConnect program allows producers to be eligible for Farm Bill funding for the same regenerative practices. 

If you are using the current Climate Smart funding available for some programs (Cargill RegenConnect did not partake in the Climate Smart funding) please read the fine print about any outcomes that may be generated in your fields so that you are not partaking in incompatible programs.

If you have questions, please reach out to our agronomy team and we would be happy to break down your costs and the value of soil health for your operation or any other questions you might have.

Anna Teeter Headshot Bio Image

Anna Teeter

Anna Teeter is a Conservation Agronomist with the Cargill RegenConnect™ program. Her goal is to help farmers successfully implement soil health practices while continuing to advocate for agriculture. Anna brings extensive hands-on experience having worked with the University of Wisconsin-Madison extension services, private ag consulting services, and most recently the Soil Health Partnership, which led her to Cargill. She has a Bachelor of Science in Agronomy and Life Sciences Communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Masters of Science in Soil Science.

Headshot of Alayna Jacobs

Alayna Jacobs

Alayna Jacobs is a Conservation Agronomist with the Cargill RegenConnect program. Alayna brings with her extensive experience planning cover crop options with farmers participating in USDA-NRCS Farm Bill conservation programs. This experience includes selecting cover crop species to target specific resource issues on each farm making her a great resource to support Cargill RegenConnect growers in choosing cover crop varieties. Alayna is passionate about helping producers integrate resource solutions that support soil health and are cost-effective for their operations.