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The Growth of Climate Smart Agriculture

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

There is a growing focus on the concept of “climate smart” agriculture as researchers from academic institutions, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations explore what the future of our food, fuel, and fiber production must look like to adapt to a changing climate. Here enters the concept of climate smart production methods and commodities. “Climate Smart” refers to an approach to agricultural production that implements green and climate resilient practices to meet the growing demand for food, fiber, and fuel while contributing to economic development and poverty reduction. The goal is to maintain and even enhance the productivity and resilience of natural and agricultural ecosystem functions through the development of adaptation (co-exist with a changing climate) and mitigation (reduce impacts of changing climate) production approaches.

Image: Chestnut and winter wheat alley cropping system. Alley cropping is an agroforestry practice that can add diversity and resilience to agricultural production by including multiple crops (trees/perennials and annuals).

Climate smart agriculture provides opportunities to mitigate, or reduce the severity, of climate change by managing agricultural land to achieve lower N2O and CH4 emissions per unit of output. This is done by maintaining soil cover, planting perennial species to store carbon, and reducing fertilizer applications. Climate Smart approaches also provide opportunity for adaption (adjusting to the change in precipitation, soil nutrients, and temperature) to climate change. Adaptation practices enhance resilience of the farm through soil, water and plant nutrient management, improved on-farm water storage and irrigation, access to heat/drought and flood tolerant tree and crop species, diversification of farm production (such as mixed crop and tree systems aka agroforestry), and enhancing the collective action of institutions (both public and private) to disseminate knowledge and undertake local adaptation planning.

Many climate smart technologies and practices are not achieving their full potential of impact due to low levels of adoption by farmers throughout the world. Not all farmers do not have the current capacity to alter their production practices. Many lack both the financial capital and technical skills to implement climate smart practices. This is where continuing research, education, and outreach is essential to address specific barriers to implementing climate smart approaches to farm production.

Image: Goat Silvopasture at Lincoln University's Busby Farm. Silvopasture combines trees and livestock in a single managed system. The trees provide shade, food, protection to grazing livestock while the livestock can help control noxious forest vegetation such as Honeysuckle.

The United States Department of Agriculture has recognized the importance of pursuing climate smart agricultural practices with the creation of the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities opportunity which provides up to $1 billion for pilot projects that create market opportunities for commodities produced using climate-smart practices. Institutions throughout the U.S. (including Lincoln!) are proposing ways to support farms in the transition to climate resiliency.

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