Agricultural soils contribute to human welfare through their generation of manifold ecosystem services such as food security, water quality and climate regulation, but these are degraded by common farming practices. We have developed a roadmap for evaluating the contribution of both private- and public-good ecosystem services generated by agricultural soils to societal welfare. The approach considers the needs of decision-makers at different levels, from farmers to policy-makers. This we achieve through combining production functions—to quantify the impacts of alternative management practices on agricultural productivity and soil ecosystem services—with non-market valuation of changes in public-good ecosystem services and benefit–cost analysis. The results show that the net present value to society of implementing soil-friendly measures are substantial, but negative for farmers in our study region. Although we apply our roadmap to an intensive farming region in Sweden, we believe our results have broad applicability, because farmers do not usually account for the value of public-good ecosystem services. We therefore conclude that market outcomes are not likely to be generating optimal levels of soil ecosystem services from society’s perspective. Innovative governance institutions are needed to resolve this market failure to safeguard the welfare of future generations.
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