by Amelia Bruss, CFSA Soil Health Technician

In the face of escalating climate change impacts, the agricultural sector finds itself at the forefront of both challenge and opportunity. As global temperatures rise and weather patterns become increasingly erratic, traditional farming practices are being tested like never before. In this context, embracing climate-smart agriculture practices has become an essential strategy for climate adaptation.

Climate-smart agriculture represents a paradigm shift in how we approach food production, intertwining ecological resilience, resource efficiency, and sustainable development objectives. At its core, climate-smart agriculture seeks to harness agricultural practices that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, enhance carbon sequestration, and bolster the resilience of farming systems to climate-related shocks and stresses.

The urgency for climate adaptation in agriculture stems from the mounting evidence that climate change impacts disrupt agricultural productivity and livelihoods worldwide. Farmers grapple with unprecedented challenges that jeopardize food security, economic stability, and environmental integrity, from prolonged droughts and extreme heat waves to intensified floods and shifting growing seasons.

By adopting climate-smart practices, farmers can mitigate the adverse effects of climate change and seize opportunities to enhance their adaptive capacity and long-term sustainability. These practices encompass various strategies, ranging from conservation agriculture and agroforestry to precision irrigation and crop diversification.

Climate-smart agriculture offers multifaceted benefits beyond climate adaptation alone. By enhancing soil health, conserving water resources, and promoting biodiversity, climate-smart agriculture practices contribute to improved ecosystem services, reduced vulnerability to pests and diseases, and increased agricultural productivity over the long term.

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) provides various grant programs to support climate-smart agriculture practices. These grants are designed to assist farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners in implementing these climate-mitigating practices. 

The specific details of USDA climate-smart grants may vary depending on the program and funding availability. However, some common themes and objectives include:

  • Partnerships and Collaboration: Collaborate with other organizations, including universities, research institutions, and non-profits, to administer these climate-smart grant programs. These partnerships help leverage resources, expertise, and networks to maximize the impact of the funded projects.
  • Research and Innovation: Funding is allocated to support research initiatives focused on developing and improving climate-smart agricultural practices. This can include soil health, water management, crop diversity, and carbon sequestration projects. 
  • Technical Assistance: These grants support technical assistance programs that help farmers and landowners adopt and implement climate-smart practices. This can involve training sessions, workshops, on-farm demonstrations, and one-on-one consultations.
  • Infrastructure Development: Some grants may also support the development of infrastructure necessary for climate-smart agriculture, such as irrigation systems, renewable energy installations, or facilities for composting and waste management.
  • Conservation Programs: USDA conservation programs often include components promoting climate-smart practices. These programs may provide financial incentives, cost-share assistance, and technical support to landowners who implement practices that improve soil health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or enhance wildlife habitat.

CFSA’s Climate-Smart Partnerships

CFSA is partnering with The Rodale Institute and Pasa Sustainable Agriculture to support farmers interested in adopting and studying climate-smart practices.

The project, entitled “Quantifying the Potential to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Increase Carbon Sequestration by Growing and Marketing Climate-Smart Commodities in the Southern Piedmont,” led by Rodale Institute, is partnering with a team of twelve universities, farming NGOs, and consulting firms, to work with vegetable farmers and farmers markets in the Southern Piedmont to promote the adoption of climate-smart farming practices and expand markets for the sale of climate-smart commodities. Farmers will be asked to add cover crops to their vegetable rotation. Data will be collected on greenhouse gas emissions, soil health benefits, economic impacts, and social barriers to the adoption of using cover crops versus not using cover crops on their fields. This information will provide farmers with the data needed to capitalize on carbon market programs and understand how they can better steward their lands and communities while providing recommendations to the USDA for ways to economically and socially support farmers’ transitions to climate-smart agriculture.

Additionally, Rodale has designed a marketing campaign that investigates the best strategies for educating consumers about the value-added benefits of purchasing climate-smart commodities. The information gained from this work will help farmers better understand the value of their work and provide the USDA with recommendations on ways to support climate-smart markets through consumer education.

The project “Climate-Smart Farming & Marketing: Engaging in Community Science & Practice from Maine to South Carolina” is led by Pasa Sustainable Agriculture and invites farmers from 6 major watersheds across 15 states, including lands stewarded by Tribal nations and Indigenous farmers in the same geographic region to participate. The program offers financial and technical support for farmers who want to implement climate-smart practices such as agroforestry, cover cropping, prescribed grazing, and reduced tillage. Farmer participants will help measure the environmental benefits of these practices, and the project partners will help them educate customers to grow informed consumer demand. The 28 practices that are supported by this program include:

Alley cropping (311)

Conservation Cover (327)

Contour Buffer Strips (332)

Conservation Crop Rotation (328)

Cover Crop (340)

Fence (382)

Field Border (386)

Filter Strip (393)

Forest Farming (379)

Grassed Waterway (412)

Hedgerow Planting (422)

Herbaceous Wind Barriers (603)

Livestock Pipeline (516)

Mulching (484)

Nutrient Management (590)

Pasture and Hay Planting (512)

Prescribed Grazing (528)

Range Planting (550)

Silvopasture (381)

Stripcropping (585)

Tree/Shrub Establishment (612)

Vegetative Barrier (601)

Residue and Tillage Management, No-Till (329)

Residue and Tillage Management, Reduced (345)

Riparian Herbaceous Cover (390)

Upland Wildlife Habitat Management (645)

Windbreak/Shelterbelt Establishment (380)

Watering Facility (614)

Note: The three-digit code after each practice indicates the corresponding Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) practice standard.

Through proactive adaptation measures grounded in climate-smart agriculture, we can cultivate crops and hope for a more resilient and equitable tomorrow. For more information on these programs and how to apply for them, head to the provided links or connect with one of CFSA’s technical assistant providers! 

Southern Piedmont Climate-Smart Project

Pasa Climate-Smart Farming & Marketing Project 

USDA Partnerships For Climate-Smart Commodities

The CFSA Farm Services Team is here to provide technical assistance on conservation planning, organic production, transition, and certification. If you live in the Carolinas and would like to discuss how we can help, let us know!

Silage Tarps at CFSA’s Elma C. Lomax Research and Education Farm

In organic farming, controlling weeds is one of the most challenging problems to overcome. Without herbicides, weeds can quickly take over your beautiful beds that have just been planted. Watching your plot that has just been planted and is spotless with no weeds quickly be overrun by them can be very disheartening to a farmer, especially when you’re new to growing vegetables. This is most problematic with direct-seeded crops, like root vegetables and baby greens. Vegetables like carrots that take longer to germinate can be especially frustrating. 

One way to combat weeds taking over is by using silage tarps to create a stale seedbed. Silage tarps are UV-rated plastic tarps that are black on one side and white on the other. They come in various sizes and can be cut to cover any area. Cutting the tarps also makes them easier to manage; large ones can be pretty heavy with a bit of water on them. In this article, I will explain the process I use here at Lomax when direct seeding.

Bed Layout

The first step is to shape your beds. I use a raised bed system on the farm, but this also works on flat ground. You will want to prepare your beds as much in advance as possible so you will have time to allow weed seeds to germinate. After your beds are made, the next step is to get some water on the beds to start the germination process. If you have plenty of time before your planting date and cooperative weather, you can let the rain do this. If you are pressed for time, you can irrigate. I use drip irrigation on the farm, so I usually lay out my drip tape and soak the soil since the weather rarely cooperates with my plans.


After a few days, you should start to see some germination. Once I see good germination, I will cover the area to be planted with a silage tarp held down with sandbags. You will want to cover the area after a few days and keep the weeds from growing too much. The bigger they grow, the longer it will take to kill them off under the tarp. You will want to repeat this process of covering and uncovering as many times as your planting schedule allows time.

The number of weeds you have and the temperature will also play into how often this is repeated. After repeating this several times, you should have relatively weed-free beds to sow. If you have ample time, you can then cover your beds until you are ready to plant. With the clay soil in my area, I like to prepare beds with this method in the fall for the following spring.

Pulling back silage tarps to allow for weed seed germination


There is also a method called occultation. This is when you leave the tarp in place and let the weeds germinate under the tarp and die off. If you have the time to cover ground for long periods, this may be a better solution. Moving the tarp on and off is more work, but I have found it necessary at Lomax Farm. There seems to be better weed seed germination when the ground is not covered.

Although it may not be perfect, and some weeds will still pop up, this method will give you a much cleaner start and allow your vegetables to get established without competing with weeds. It makes me smile to see a field of thriving vegetables not being choked out by weeds. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but my words come from experience. Using tarps to help with weed control will save you countless hours of cultivation and much anxiety.

About the Author

Dylan Alexander is CFSA’s Lomax Farm Manager. He is responsible for land management, maintaining equipment, and assisting with Lomax’s research, education, and the FiT program. Dylan has extensive experience in seasonal organic vegetable production, hydroponics, indoor and outdoor mushroom production, and management on farms and in greenhouses and high tunnels.

Almost every ag space I have entered lately is buzzing with climate-smart chatter, and I couldn’t be happier. Why? These farming practices can offer solutions that simultaneously mitigate the impacts of conventional agriculture on the environment, enhance resilience, ensure food security, support farming livelihoods, provide economic opportunity, and allow us to adapt to the changing climate through sustainable and regenerative practices. Hurray!  

Here in the Carolinas, our diverse landscapes span from coastal plains to beautiful mountain ranges. We are seeing shifts in temperature, precipitation patterns, and more extreme weather events that continue to alter the farming landscape. Rising temperatures influence traditional planting and harvesting times, and warmer winters disrupt the chilling hours needed for our abundant fruit crops. Heat stress during the growing season affects crop growth, quality, and yield, ultimately impacting the farmer’s bottom line. One of the most pronounced effects we are seeing is in the precipitation patterns. Increased rainfall and more frequent intense storms lead to soil erosion, nutrient run-off, and waterlogging, while decreased rainfall leads to severe periods of drought where water management strategies are becoming necessary to save our crops. 

Climate-smart farming practices are gaining awareness and importance as potential solutions to these challenges. Cover cropping, reduced tillage, crop rotation, water conservation, and the use of technology are essential strategies for maintaining soil health, preventing erosion, and sequestering carbon.

Cover Crops

Cover crops play a pivotal role as climate change reshapes growing conditions. These strategically chosen crops, planted between main season crops, cover and protect the soil from erosion and degradation, suppress weed growth, and attract beneficial insects, lessening the reliance on herbicides and insecticides that negatively impact the environment. As cover crops grow, the root system taps into nutrients in the soil, reducing nutrient leach while safeguarding our valuable water resources. At the same time, these roots enhance soil aeration, promote microbial activity, and contribute to improved soil health and carbon sequestration. 

The choice of cover crops depends on your micro-climate, cropping system, soil health goals, and nutrient management needs. Winter rye, crimson clover, hairy vetch, Austrian winter pea, buckwheat, sunflower, daikon, sorghum-sudangrass, and lupine are a few good candidates that will fix nitrogen, increase biomass, alleviate compaction, decrease weed pressure, and increase biodiversity that attracts pollinators and beneficial insects.

Reduced Tillage

Reduced tillage, aka conservation tillage or no-till farming, is the practice of minimizing soil disturbance. This can be through reduced plowing, cultivation, or inversion, positively impacting soil health, water conservation, and carbon sequestration. Reduced tillage preserves the soil’s structure and organic matter, promotes better water infiltration and retention, reduces water evaporation and erosion, increases the soil’s resilience to compaction, fosters biodiversity, and prevents the release of CO2 into the atmosphere. 

Equipment needed for no-till or reduced-till varies depending on crops, conditions, and management goals. Commonly used equipment includes row cleaners, no-till planters and drills, roller crimpers, flail mowers, subsoilers, and strip-tillers, which minimize soil disturbance while improving health and infiltration. Existing equipment is often modified or adapted to meet the needs of the task.  

Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is an essential part of climate-smart farming, where the goal is to enhance productivity while minimizing our environmental impact. The practice of crop rotation offers many benefits and supports the long-term viability of environmentally responsible farming systems. Here are a few reasons why we use crop rotation as a tool to help achieve our goals.

  • Pest and disease management – crop rotation helps break the life cycles of pests, reducing the need for insecticides and decreasing disease build-up over time.
  • Soil health and nutrient management – Different crops deplete different nutrients, whereas others replenish. Balancing nutrients is vital to healthy soil, reducing the reliance on synthetic fertilizers and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Carbon sequestration – Certain crops can fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil. This exchange promotes microbial activity, enriches organic matter, and promotes sequestration. 
  • Water Management – Combining crop rotation and water management can optimize soil health while efficiently conserving, distributing, and utilizing water, our most precious resource, throughout the changing climate patterns.

Water Conservation

Water Conservation is a crucial step in climate-smart farming and the growing concern of water scarcity. Implementing water-efficient practices will help preserve and protect this precious resource and enhance the resilience of our agriculture systems as it relates to climate change. 

Here are a few strategies to help move the needle:

  • Efficient Irrigation
    • Drip irrigation- giving the water, where needed, at the root zone.
    • Sub-surface drip irrigation – beneath the soil surface to reduce loss and weed growth.
    • Sprinkler – high efficiency and correct nozzle types allow for optimal distribution and less overspray.
    • Irrigation timing  – this is crucial! Early morning or late evening is ideal, and only irrigate to the plant’s needs to reduce evaporation and water waste. 
  • Rainwater Harvesting
    • Collect rainwater for use at a later time to support irrigation needs.
  • Crop Selection
    • Climate-adapted crops or drought-resistant crops that are well-suited to your growing area. 
  • Water Saving Technology
    • Using soil moisture sensors, irrigation controllers, remote sensing, and data analytics, we can optimize water use by supplying water and nutrients necessary for the specific field conditions. 


Technology empowers farmers to adapt to these challenges by providing tools for resource management, informed decision-making, and developing climate-resilient farming systems. Even the smallest farmer can effectively use technology to advance their practices and provide a benefit to the farm.

  • Precision Agriculture. This technology uses remote sensing, satellite imagery, GPS, Global Positioning Systems, GIS, and Geographic Information Systems to help farmers accurately map and manage their fields.
  • Mobile apps and software; modern tools for increased productivity, sustainability, and profitability.  
  • Climate monitoring and prediction. Provides historical and current climate data where trends can be shown and informed decisions can be made. 
  • Education and Knowledge Sharing. My personal favorite – knowledge transfer!
    • Online Platforms – Digital platforms and social media are helpful in knowledge exchange and allow for best practice sharing and problem-solving. Want to stay informed about all the latest and greatest in modern ag? Check it out:
    • Farmer-to-farmer mentors are valuable for new and beginning farmers. Through mentorship, we contribute to the success of the agriculture sector. The guidance fosters the growth of confident, informed, and resilient farmers who can adapt to changing climate conditions. 

Technology has revolutionized modern farming. Integrating technology into farming practices, from very small to very large farms, can enable farmers to harness the power of data to optimize their operations, minimize waste, adapt to the changing climate conditions, and contribute to the needs of our local food systems. 

Check out this success story from the No-Till Podcast about Russell Hedrick, a farmer out of Hickory, NC, who has used technology to smash yield records.

Overall, climate-smart farming is a multi-faceted approach that empowers farmers to tackle the challenges of climate change while building a more resilient and sustainable agricultural system for the future of farming. Can the practices offer numerous benefits to farmers while providing environmental stewardship? I believe they can!

Interested in learning more about climate-smart farming? Would you like to be paid to be part of a climate-smart research project? Check out these resources and climate-smart opportunities. 

About the Author

Kim Butz is CFSA’s soil conservationist, managing the many climate-smart farming projects CFSA is involved with.

Kim has a passion for all things farm and food. She focuses on teaching sustainable and organic practices, and a continued mission to mentor and support small farmers. Kim has 25 years of food service experience as a chef/manager in the private, corporate, and institutional sectors. She has been an advocate for food safety, was an instructor for ServSafe, and was Train-The-Trainer certified through Culinary Masterworks.