(GREENSBORO, NC) Climate-resilient agricultural practices can help small farms in North Carolina profit in a changing climate, according to new research by North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University Cooperative Extension and Environmental Defense Fund.
The research 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.
Variable and extreme weather associated with a changing climate, including severe weather events and hotter summer nights, challenge small farms. While some North Carolina farmers have adapted to these changes by switching to climate-resilient practices, other farmers need to know first that these practices also have financial benefits for their farms.
A summary report and three case studies share insights for farmers and their advisers to inform their financial decision-making when considering whether to implement climate-smart farming practices.
“Supporting our small farms across North Carolina to adapt to a changing climate includes educating them on new practices and their financial implications,” said Mark Blevins, Ed.D., assistant administrator for agricultural and natural resources at N.C. A&T Cooperative Extension. “Our financial case studies demonstrate that practices like reduced tillage and investing in high tunnels can make farms more resilient to severe weather, while also paying off financially.”
The farmers in the case studies adopted climate-resilient practices to adapt to more variable and severe precipitation, changing growing season durations and more frequent hurricanes. They attribute better water management during severe rain events and droughts, less erosion and improved soil health to these practices.
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.
“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 increased their revenue by growing high-value crops in high tunnels and lowered their operating costs by reducing tillage and planting cover crops.”
Holly Whitesides is one of the farmers who participated in the project. She and her husband Andy Bryant own and operate Against the Grain farm in the mountains of Zionville, North Carolina, where they grow a wide variety of vegetables, including tomatoes, lettuce, greens and ginger. They also raise livestock, including cattle and pigs. They use cover crops and grow high-value crops in high tunnels.
“By using high tunnels, we've been able to grow crops for longer seasons and have a more nuanced approach to our watering,” Whitesides said. “Cover crops and composting have reduced the mountains and the valleys of our soil moisture, so it stays more consistent over time.”
Against the Grain Farm has seen higher revenue from growing tomatoes, ginger and peppers in high tunnels and lower organic fertilizer expenses from using cover crops.
“To know your numbers is to be empowered by them,” said Whitesides. “Having the financial piece in play has helped us make good and balanced decisions.”
Read the research summary and farm case studies at ncat.edu/caes/cooperative-extension/edf.
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Cooperative Extension at N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University is a part of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, the largest college of agriculture amongst 1890s land grant institutions and the largest producer of Black agricultural science undergraduates in the nation. N.C. A&T Cooperative Extension serves small and limited-resource farmers in all 100 counties across the state with more than half a million contacts each year. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University is the nation’s largest historically Black university. The university was founded in 1891 and is located in Greensboro, North Carolina. Connect with us @NCATExtension.
One of the world's leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org) creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 2.5 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF's scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter @EnvDefenseFund