College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

N.C. A&T, Environmental Defense Fund partner on farming study

Climate-resilient practices can help small farms adapt to changing weather while improving profitability, study shows

Climate-resilient agricultural practices can help small farms in North Carolina profit in a changing climate, according to new research by Cooperative Extension at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and the Environmental Defense Fund, a nationwide nonprofit advocacy group.

A summary report and case studies of three small farms in North Carolina by N.C. A&T Cooperative Extension and EDF share insights for farmers and their advisers to inform their financial decision-making when considering whether to implement climate-smart agriculture practices.

“What we’ve found is way too important to keep to ourselves,” said Mark Blevins, Ed.D., assistant administrator for agricultural and natural resources at N.C. A&T Cooperative Extension.

Variable and extreme weather associated with a changing climate, including severe weather events and hotter summer nights, challenges small farms. The latest research by N.C. A&T Cooperative Extension and EDF summarizes the real-world financial and climate-resilience benefits that practices such as reduced tillage, cover cropping and high tunnel use are providing three small farms in diverse growing regions: the coastal plain, the Piedmont and the mountains.

According to Blevins, the nonprofit – an ongoing partner with the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences – reached out to N.C. A&T Cooperative Extension to collaborate to help smaller, diversified farms in North Carolina with good business records.

“Supporting our small farms across North Carolina to adapt to a changing climate includes educating them on new practices and their financial implications,” said Blevins, adding that the research information will be further shared at field days, demonstrations and other outreach events. “Helping other farmers figure out ways they can better handle weather extremes while improving their bottom line is what this project is all about. Seeing growers talk through these options with others will be a reward in itself, knowing that this case study is opening minds to new possibilities and profitable options on the farm.”

The three farms featured in the project – New Ground Farm in Pembroke; Blackwell’s Farm in Reidsville; and Against the Grain in Zionville –   have adopted new practices to adjust to more variable and severe precipitation, changing growing season durations and increasingly frequent hurricanes. The farmers attribute better water management during severe rain events and droughts, less erosion and improved soil health to their use of climate-resilient practices.

“Adjusting farming practices to adapt to a changing climate can generate financial benefits on the farm,” says Vincent Gauthier, senior analyst at EDF. “The farmers we worked with on this project were able to increase their revenue by growing high-value crops efficiently in high tunnels and lower operating costs with reduced tillage and cover crops.”

The case studies include a partial-budget analysis of the three farms to demonstrate the changes in revenue and costs associated with adopting climate-resilient practices.

Case Studies