Promoting Soil Health and the adoption of Soil Health Management Systems (SHMS) to farmers is a key priority for the USDA-NRCS, conservation scientists and NGOs. However, prior research by Delta Institute suggests a lack of economic incentives prevent Illinois farmers from adopting SHMS at scale. Furthermore, Illinois’ land valuation system does not explicitly establish a link between Soil Health and land value. We are exploring these realities in the agricultural sector, so that Soil Health becomes a more standardized metric (and practices) on farms across the Midwest.
Brief Overview of What We’re Doing
Federal cost-share programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) offer farmers financial assistance to adopt SHMS, but applicants cite a lack of administrative capacity or eligibility to secure funding. Therefore, to create greater financial incentives for Illinois farmers to adopt SHMS, Delta Institute and our many partners, including Compeer Financial and the Soil Health Institute, seek to create a place-based appraisal methodology to incorporate Soil Health into the farmland valuation process. This stems from prior activities and research into land valuation.
In prior stages of work, Delta Institute described the institutional friction between Land Value and Soil Health in Farmland Appraisals and outlined costs and procedures of Soil Health Testing. Following feedback and additional input from farmland brokers and appraisers, two novel appraisal interventions were selected for development: a Soil Health Index and an Inventory of Comparable Properties that have adopted SHMS. Now, to support the next stage of work – piloting the two aforementioned interventions among a cohort of 10 Illinois farms within MLRA 108 – Delta offers this analysis of Illinois’ farmland real estate market from 2017—2023. This report synthesizes market signals of farmland real estate in Illinois to uncover driving factors that place value to land. These findings will inform the ultimate goal of institutionalizing Soil Health as a factor in the land appraisal process in Illinois.
Delta’s analysis of Illinois’ farmland real estate market from 2017—2023 synthesizes market signals of farmland real estate in Illinois to uncover driving factors that place value to land, which will help us pilot new farmland broker/appraiser-informed Soil Health-focused approaches (a Soil Health Index and an Inventory of Comparable Properties) among a cohort of 10 Illinois farms within the NRCS Major Land Resource Area 108 that spans central Illinois from the north to the east.
Delta’s efforts to link Soil Health and Land Valuation in Illinois have far-reaching implications in the wider Great Lakes and Corn-belt regions. Currently, as part of our project scope Delta is conducting outreach in Indiana and Iowa to raise awareness and engagement among real estate experts and farmland appraisers of the environmental and economic benefits of improved Soil Health, as well as providing resources to support the expansion of Delta’s Soil Health Land Valuation (SHLV) work.
Beyond these efforts, Delta has developed interventions for piloting Soil Health and Land Valuation in Michigan with the support of the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation; this aligned yet distinct scope is providing additional geography and learnings for our overall Midwestern efforts. Indeed, by identifying the economic benefits of investing in Soil Health, Delta is working with farmers and landowners across the Great Lakes and Corn-belt regions to understand the long-term value of adopting sustainable agricultural practices.
This project was produced with generous support from the Walton Family Foundation. We extend our appreciation to the many farmers engaging with us, as well as our partners, including Compeer Financial and the Soil Health Institute.
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