American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and helped thousands of farm families make a go of it (primarily through programs that increase farm viability and/or enhance farmland access). Long a pioneering leader, AFT is now riding a new wave of growth, driven by agriculture’s most pressing needs and opportunities.
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Evidence demonstrating the economic benefits of soil health management systems is currently limited and yet critically needed to drive scaled-up adoption. AFT is working to fill the gap with user-friendly soil health economic calculators for a diversity of production systems and practices.
Reporting to the Water Initiative Director, the Economic Tools Development Manager, who is a senior level agricultural economist, will conduct and lead research, in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team across AFT, to further develop AFT’s three existing economic tools: Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator (R-SHEC) Tool, Predictive or P-SHEC Tool, and Online-SHEC Tool. The research will expand functionality to ensure the tools can be used for more production systems, in more states, and for more soil health practices and to ensure that the basis of the predictions of return on long-term investment in building soil health is scientifically and economically sound.
These tools serve as the basis for producing retrospective economic and environmental case studies of “soil health successful” producers and predictive assessments for “soil health curious” producers considering the value of adoption. Download the R-SHEC Tool Kit to learn about the methods and case studies here: https://farmland.org/project/quantifying-economic-and-environmental-benefits-of-soil-health/.
As an integral part of the AFT Program team, the Senior Agricultural Economist will be key in completing deliverables focused on AFT’s Soil Health Economic Tools as well as shaping the future of how the tools work. This position will conduct literature research, acquire and analyze datasets, and develop innovative new ways to integrate existing scientific knowledge, data, and/or models to improve the tools’ relevance and utility for conservation professionals and producers.
This position will work across the interdisciplinary team to accelerate the development of the P-SHEC Tool’s Long-Term Benefits sheet in the currently Excel-based tool to improve the soil organic matter (SOM)-crop yield relationship calculations, all the SOM-related calculations, and explore other important causal relationships between soil health and economic indicators as the basis for the predictive functions of the P-SHEC Tool. In addition, the person will manage and lead the team in the development of the R-SHEC and O-SHEC tools. Though funding is available for two years with the expectation that additional funds will be forthcoming pending the completion of deliverables, this person has the opportunity to build upon existing AFT projects, create new project ideas, and bring in external funding.
This position is one of five new hires AFT is making to establish a Soil Health Economics Accelerator Team comprised of two agricultural economists and a soil health scientist (tool developers) and two conservation agronomists (case study authors). These new hires will complement existing AFT staff expertise already working in this area.
What You’ll Be Working On
- Lead collaboration to continue the development of all three tools (R-SHEC, P-SHEC, and O-SHEC Tools), pending data availability, and team priorities to (1) expand to priority states, (2) expand beyond existing row crops (e.g., to Kernza, sorghum, row crop vegetables, etc.), (3) expand nut crops beyond almonds and possibly to fruit orchards, (4) expand to perennial production systems, (5) expand soil health practices (e.g., biochar, agroforestry, silvopasture), and (6) develop a grazing version of the tools.
- Lead outreach and collaboration with internal and external agricultural professionals to investigate the availability of existing datasets of economic and soil health indicators that AFT could obtain. In particular the team will leverage the recent USDA investment in Climate Smart Commodity Partnerships (both those funded for AFT, and potentially others through cross coordination) to plan for and facilitate the collection of shared data across multiple projects to strengthen the value of AFT’s publicly available tool suite.
- Analyze datasets using appropriate statistical software (R, Stata, etc.) to generate estimates of the quantitative relationships between SOM and yield, as well as other soil health indicators such as soil fertility/nutrient cycling, water storage capacity/water cycling, and others for use in the P-SHEC Tool. Publish findings in appropriate academic journals.
- Lead collaboration to continue development of all three tools, pending data availability, and team priorities to (1) solve challenges in calculating costs of simultaneous changes in conservation crop rotation and soil health practices, (2) expand cost data so it is more regionally explicit, and (3) adjust the tools to allow proper quantification of double-cropping short-term effects.
- Lead collaboration on the creation of a P-SHEC Tool Kit and associated materials, including a user manual, and then facilitate an external review by a selection of interdisciplinary experts.
- Once complete, oversee pilot-use and evaluation of the updated P-SHEC tool by AFT Authors to conduct interviews with pilot “soil health curious farmers” to test the updated tool and produce predictive assessments.
- Provide support and advice, as needed to users of the tools to develop retrospective case studies and predictive assessments to achieve internal quality control and goals.
- Collaborate closely with AFT leadership to execute the two-year grant to achieve the deliverables, and stay on track with regard to milestones, deliverables and budget spend down, and ensure future funding is forthcoming.
- Produce and use associated education and outreach materials, such as PowerPoints and webinars, for a wide array of audiences.
The ideal candidate is a strong, self-motivated researcher with an ability to solve complex, interdisciplinary problems independently as well as in a collaborative team and possesses:
- Ability to leverage and engage a team’s and partners’ skill sets and collaborate toward a joint goal.
- Strong quantitative and econometrics skills and proficiency in using a relevant statistical software (R, Stata, etc.) and assembling large datasets of economic indicators.
- Knowledge about U.S. commodity crop production systems (e.g., corn, soybeans, wheat, hay, corn silage, and almonds); ability to learn additional production systems, such as agroforestry and grazing, vegetables, and fruit orchards, is a plus.
- Knowledge about soil health practices (e.g., no-till, strip-till, cover crops, nutrient management, conservation crop rotation, mulching, and compost and/or other soil carbon amendment application).
- Ability to communicate highly technical economic and scientific data and analyses in an effective and meaningful way to various audiences including farmers, conservation professional, and fellow economists both verbally and in writing.
- Ability to juggle multiple research and tool development lines of work at various stages of completion and various stages of internal and external review.
- Ability to work effectively in a multi-disciplinary, non-siloed, highly collaborative environment and across the organization and with partners in a remote-work environment.
- Flexibility and eagerness to learn new methods and analytical approaches as they may change over time.
- Experience using Outlook, Microsoft Office 365 Suite including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams.
- Ability to support a strong team culture of shared learning, innovation, and problem solving among AFT staff.
The following qualifications are a plus:
- Knowledgeable about soil health science and the relationships between soil health indicators/soil function and crop yield, nutrient and chemical input use, etc., is a plus.
- Knowledgeable in agricultural production economics including partial budget analysis, is a plus.
- Experience developing Excel-based economic-environmental tools is a plus.
- Experience using COMET-Planner, COMET-Farm, Nutrient Tracking Tool or any other national environmental outcome quantification tools is a plus.
- Experience collaborating with members of the academic and practitioner conservation community is a plus (i.e., ERS, ARS, NRCS, university agricultural economists, Extension, farm trade associations, corporations with sustainability goals, NGOs, ag retailers, etc.)
- Eagerness to understand individuals’ and organizations’ goals in order to forge mutually beneficial data-, model-, and tool-sharing relationships.
Education & Experience
- PhD or master’s degree in agricultural or resource economics; or if education is in a different economics discipline, 6+ years’ work experience in some aspect of agriculture and/or sustainability/environmental conservation economic analyses is required.
- >6 years’ postgraduate experience as a practicing agricultural or resource economist is required.
- The position does involve supervisory duties, and also requires an emphasis on research, statistical analysis, improvement of tools, and accomplishment of grant deliverables.
Why you should apply
- Be a part of a purpose-driven, committed, knowledgeable, high-performing, experienced and fun team
- A diverse and inclusive work environment
- A cause and mission you can be proud of
- Competitive compensation & benefits
- Remote work opportunities
- Flexible scheduling
Ready to apply? If this job sounds like a fit for you, then click on the ‘apply’ button below. Please answer the screener questions and be sure to include a cover letter and resume to be considered.