closeup of golden yellow millet in a field


An Exploration of Climate-Smart Practices

Official project title:

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, we’re partnering with universities, NGOs, farmers, and farmers markets in the Southeastern U.S. to understand and promote climate-smart farming practices.

A gardener handing a bowl of grape tomatoes being handed to someone

We will be:

  • Partnering with 500 small-scale farms to better quantify the benefits of climate-smart methods (primarily the use of cover crops) and studying their effect on soil health, greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental factors
  • Educating farmers markets on how to communicate the value of the climate-smart goods grown through the study—and helping expand the market for these commodities
  • Developing recommendations for helping farmers transition to climate-smart agriculture

In the Field
500 Active Farms Across the Southern Piedmont

We’re conducting research on real farms. The farmers of 50 conventional and 50 organic farms will enroll a portion of their land (1–10 acres each) and manage it according to the program for four years. They’ll follow a planting protocol and introduce cover crops on half the enrolled land.

Along the way, farmers will work with our research team to gather data on a variety of environmental factors: soil health, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and others. In exchange, they’ll receive technical and financial support.

aerial view of fields split into sections of six rows

Project Partners A Cross-Industry Collaboration

Select a partner below to learn more about the organization and their contributors.

From the Experts

This effort will increase the competitive advantage of U.S. agriculture both domestically and internationally, build wealth that stays in rural communities, and support a diverse range of producers and operation types.

Tom Vilsack
US Secretary of Agriculture

This multi-disciplinary project brings together organic and conventional farmers, non-profit agricultural organizations, and public, private, and historically Black colleges and universities to measure and promote climate-smart commodities.

Dr. Andrew Smith
Chief Operating Officer, Rodale Institute

We expect that this project will increase acreage and number of farmers using cover crops and other conservation practices that will not only benefit the climate but also improve water quality, biodiversity, and the well-being of the greater farming community within this region.

Dr. Andrew Smith
Chief Operating Officer, Rodale Institute
clover and rye crops grown side-by-side for biodiversity

Dig Deeper Frequently Asked Questions

Learn what “climate-smart” means, how this project is funded, how farmers benefit, and more.

What is the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Grant?

The Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities grant is an historic multibillion-dollar investment by the USDA to expand markets for America’s climate-smart commodities, leverage the greenhouse gas benefits of climate-smart commodity production, and provide direct, meaningful benefits to production agriculture. Rodale Institute was honored to receive $25 million for this critical 5-year project that provides over $6 million to southeastern farmers, including small and underserved farmers.

What is Climate-Smart Agriculture?

Climate-Smart agriculture is defined as agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes Green House Gasses (GHG) (mitigation), and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals (FAO 2010).

Where is the Southern Piedmont?

The Southern Piedmont is a 64,395 square mile, USDA designated Major Land Resource Area (MRLA 136) that extends through Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. It lies as a plateau between the Appalachian Mountains and the Coastal Plain.

Counties include:
Alabama – Calhoun, Chambers, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Macon, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, Tallpoosa

Georgia – Baldwin, Banks, Barrow, Bartow, Bibb, Butts, Carroll, Cherokee, Clarke, Clayton, Cobb, Columbia, Coweta, Crawford, Dawson, Dekalb, Douglas, Elbert, Fayette, Forsyth, Franklin, Fulton, Glascock, Greene, Gwinnett, Habersham, Hall, Hancock, Haralson, Harris, Hart, Heard, Henry, Jackson, Jasper, Jones, Lamar, Lincoln, Lumpkin, Madison, McDuffie, Meriwether, Monnroe, Morgan, Muscogee, Newton, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Paulding, Pickens, Pike, Poke, Putnam, Richmond, Rockdale, Spalding, Stephens, Talbot, Taliaferro, Taylor, Troupe, Upson, Walton, Warren, White, Wilkes

North Carolina – Alamance, Alexander, Alleghany, Anson, Burke, Caharrus, Caldwell, Caswell, Catawba, Chatham, Cleveland, Davidson, Durham, Franklin, Gaston, Granville, Guilford, Halifax, Harnett, Iredell, Johnston, Lee, Lincoln, McDowell, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Moore, Nash, Northampton, Orange, Person, Polk, Randolph, Richmond, Rockingham, Rowan, Rutherford, Stanly, Union, Vance, Wake, Warren, Wilson

South Carolina – Abbeville, Aiken, Anderson, Cherokee, Chester, Chesterfield, Edgefield, Fairfield, Greenville, Greenwood, Kershaw, Lancaster, Laurens, Lexington, McCormick, Newberry, Oconee, Pickens, Richland, Saluda, Spartanburg, Union, York

Virginia – Albemarle, Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Caroline, Culpeper, Cumberland, Danville, Fauquier, Fluvanna, Goochland, Greensville, Hanover, Henrico, Louisa, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Orange, Powhatan, Prince Edward, Richmond City, Roanoke County, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Sussex

Please see the territory outlined in the map below:

Who are the project partners?

Rodale Institute is partnering with Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Clemson University, Emory University, Georgia Organics, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, North Carolina State University, Soil Health Institute, The Connect Group, University of Georgia, University of Tennessee, University of Wisconsin, and Virginia Association of Biological Farming.

Why are there so many partners involved in the project?

Climate change and reduced soil health is a large-scale, global problem. To make meaningful change, we need to work with a variety of partner organizations with a wide range of expertise to the table to generate actionable plans that can be implemented across a large scale. Each of the partners on this project have specialized expertise that connects the dots between greenhouse gas emissions, soil health, farming, economics, social barriers to change, technical assistance, and marketing.

What is an Eddy Covariance Tower and why is this so important to the work?

Eddy Covariance towers are structures of scaffolding that hold research instrumentation which collect data on greenhouse gas emissions coming from the soil. Our towers will take data on carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ammonia, and weather data such as: precipitation, air temperature, wind speed, soil temperature, etc. This is the first time that all four greenhouse gasses will be monitored continuously at the same time in the field, so we are excited to see what this work will show us about farming’s impact on the climate.

Who can apply to participate in this project?

Any vegetable farmer (organic or conventional) and farmers market located in the Southern Piedmont.

How many farmers will be participating in the project?

We will be enrolling a total of up to 500 farmers: 50 organic and 50 conventional farms will be part of the greenhouse gas and soil health study, and up to 400 farmers will be part of the marketing campaign.

How do I learn what participating farmers are doing in the project?

Check out our Farmers Information Sheet here!

Do farmers and farmers market participating in the project receive payment for their work?

Yes, we have over $6 million dollars in cash and non-cash incentives that will go to farmers and farmers markets who participate in the project.

How long is the project?

This is a five year project. We will perform research on farms for 4 years.

person of color observing plants in a field for agriculture research

Grant Details Learn more about the Project

Get more details about participating in the project, and our goals for the next 4 years.