A retail agronomist recently told me about his experience in delivering a SoilCalculator® Soil Savings Plan to one of his farmer customers. The farmer was excited to get the information, amazed about the amount of soil erosion on his farm and intrigued by what no-till could do to reduce soil erosion. I was smiling to myself. I wasn’t surprised, because most farmers have similar reactions when they see the outputs first-hand.
However, I definitely was surprised that my agronomist friend felt ill-equipped to do more than deliver the plan to his client. He didn’t feel comfortable guiding the conversation to solutions for soil erosion or providing recommendations on the next level of service. To me, it was a lost opportunity; to give a plan to a farmer with no follow up or service. Obviously he did not understand the agronomic value of discussing soil conservation.
The Soil Savings Plan is an assessment that guides conversations and ultimately diagnosis. Think of the Soil Savings Plan similar to a blood pressure test. The blood pressure test has little value unless the information is used to inform the patient of their health status and make recommendations for healthier lifestyles.
In 2014, Dr. J. Arbuckle, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, surveyed farmers about decision making and professional advisers. The survey asked about 18 specific types of decisions under five general decision areas: crop management, insect pest management, weed management, crop disease management, and soil and water conservation practices. Of the 18 specific items, farmers reported the lowest use of a consultant on issues related to the use of conservation practices; more specifically tillage type, tillage timing, identification of conservation practices needed, and deciding whether or not to implement conservation practices.
Arbuckle found it interesting that for tillage and conservation decisions, which have long-term soil health implications, farmers tended to rely less on professional advisers. This was surprising, he added, “because soil and water conservation is the foundation of long-term productivity and sustainability. This result points to opportunities for agricultural advisers to get more involved in helping farmers to evaluate and address their soil and water conservation needs.”
In the past few years, soil health has taken center stage. Good soil health improves seed germination, water retention, nutrient cycling, soil fertility, and ultimately profitability. Soil health can be a conversation starter for selling proper seed varieties or proper fertilizer rates. If agronomists are looking for another tool in their toolbox, a Soil Savings Plan can provide real value to a farmer’s bottom line. This should be the beginning of a discussion, not the end of the discussion.