Tool Provides Farmers a Way to Calculate the Cost of Soil Erosion

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Farmers now have an online tool available for calculating the potential soil erosion impact of various crop rotations. The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) today launched a component of its popular Cropping Systems Calculator that provides insights into how decisions made on an individual farm will influence water-caused soil loss in the immediate and long-term future.

Since it was first introduced two years ago, LSP’s Cropping Systems Calculator has served as a “what-if” tool to examine the costs and returns of various crop rotations. This Excel-based tool allows a farmer, landowner, adviser or scientist to test scenarios that involve row crops and grazing, and provides important financial information for farmers as they consider integrating soil building practices into their rotations. The original Calculator was based on default figures for the Chippewa River watershed in west-central Minnesota. Since the Calculator's initial launch, LSP has periodically released updates that include default financial figures for more geographical locations, including southeastern Minnesota and Illinois. LSP has also made it possible for more crops to be considered as part of the mix.

Bryan Simon, an LSP staff member who works with farmers in the Chippewa River watershed, said it has become clear that farmers need to be aware of the long-term economic impacts of soil loss when making management decisions.

"To me, soil erosion has been greatly overlooked when it comes to penciling out the economics of a given farming practice," said Simon, who farms in Grant County. "Looking at the exposed clay subsoil on my farm’s hilltops makes me wonder how much productivity and profitability has been lost due to the way this land has been farmed. I think accounting for soil loss helps us get closer to assessing the true costs of production agriculture.”

The Calculator helps a farmer use the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) to estimate how much soil could be eroded from fields annually as a result of water runoff. Farmers use numbers to visualize the erosion potential by entering their operation’s crop rotation, tillage method, slope factors, farm location and planting direction. The result is provided as pounds, dump truck loads and inches. The amount of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur a farmer is losing per acre as a result of erosion can also be calculated.

“It should be noted that this version estimates soil erosion by water only, and doesn’t account for soil loss from wind. It also does not measure soil built because of conservation farming practices. While we know soil building does in fact happen on farms, we are not aware of equations that have been developed yet to reasonably estimate amounts,” said Rebecca Wasserman-Olin, who developed the Calculator for LSP. “For example, you could theoretically be building soil overall with cover crops and other practices, but the Calculator will only show the impact of soil loss by water from the field.”

The Cropping Systems Calculator is available at

For more information, contact LSP’s George Boody at 612-722-6377 or