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 are land-rich and resource poor and interested in no-till farming and better use of organic lands.

Robert & Jean Staverson
Participating Southern Piedmont Climate-Smart Farmers

Our farm has been carved from a forest and is only 3 years into development. Let’s see how soil structure develops on relatively new land.

Participating Southern Piedmont Climate-Smart Farmer

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

Soil health, soil remediation, love cover crops, let’s save the planet!

Participating Southern Piedmont Climate-Smart Farmer

l am excited to learn more ways to improve my relationship with the earth and farming.

Participating Southern Piedmont Climate-Smart Farmer
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).

What is considered to be a climate-smart practice?

Check it out here!

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.

Can my farmers market participate?

Yes, we are performing consumer messaging campaigns at markets.

Do farmers and farmers markets 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.

Can farmers market vendors participate?

Yes, diverse vegetable farmers will fill out Farm2Facts Ecosystems Services Tool, and post their results at the market. Market farmers can also enroll in our soil health study if they are located in the 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!

How long is the project?

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

Am I eligible if I’m not certified organic?


If I enroll property, can I irrigate as usual?


If I enroll property, can I fertilize and spray as usual?


If I enroll property, what do I have to do?

You have to plant cover crops (a mix of winter pea, daikon radish, and oats) on the enrolled acreage, using a roller crimper on 1/2 of the enrolled acreage and using plastic on the other half. If you are organic/naturally grown, you will be terminating your cover crops with a roller crimper, and conventional farmers will be terminating with herbicide. Everything that you plant on the enrolled acreage (both cash crop and cover crop) will come from a predetermined rotation.

If I enroll property, is landscape fabric allowed?


If I enroll property, are there financial incentives?

$1500/acre of rolled cover crop/year
Up to $1100/year for input reimbursement on enrolled acreage
$150/year to complete survey questions
$100/year to participate in farmer focus groups
$50/year to complete Farm2Facts
$500 to host a Farmer Field Day at your farm
$50 (20 miles or less) or $100 (21+ miles) to assist moving project equipment to your farm as needed $500/year/tower for farms housing two Eddy Covariance Towers on their property

If I enroll property, can I use fallow or new land?


If I enroll property, what’s the minimum time the field has to have been in production?

Within 1 year

If I enroll property, will I have to purchase any equipment required for executing the project systems?


What if I don’t currently use plastic mulch?

We will provide a plastic mulch layer.

What if I’ve never cover cropped?

No problem! You’ll learn about cover cropping and how to manage and terminate the crop.

If I enroll property, are cover crops required?

Yes, you’ll be using a mix of winter pea, daikon radish, and oats.

If I enroll property, do I have to fulfill the project requirements production system?


If I enroll property, what crops can I grow?

Crops will be decided by a farmer focus group. You’ll split your enrolled acreage in two, and those two sections will mirror each other with a multi-species crop rotation. Your cover crop mix will consist of winter pea, daikon radish, and oats. Your cash crop rotation will be a slicer tomato, leek, cabbage, and winter squash.

If I enroll property, do I have to have a tractor?


If I enroll property, how many years of experience do I need?

2 years.

Is this program only for vegetable farmers?


If I enroll property, will there be data I am responsible for tracking?

Yes. The data will be based upon the two enrolled fields. You’ll receive weekly questions in survey form that will take no longer than 10 minutes to complete. The majority, if not all, will be data you already collect for your farm.

If I enroll property, how will the data be collected?

Through an app that is being specifically designed for this project; survey-style data input.

If I enroll property, do I have to irrigate the cover crop?


If I enroll property, can I sell the crops grown on the enrolled acreage as I normally would?


If I enroll property, is tractor-based cultivation allowed?


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.