N.C. A&T Partners in USDA’s $2.8B Climate-Smart Commodities Projects

10/17/2022 College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Agribusiness, Applied Economics and Agriscience Education

Arnab Bhowmik, Ph.D., an assistant professor of soil science in A&T’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Oct. 17, 2022) – North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University will participate in two major projects to reduce greenhouse gases and improve climate-resilient agriculture production as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s major new Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities.

Biswanath DariBiswinath Dari, Ph.D., an agriculture and natural resources specialist with Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T, will work with organic and conventional vegetable growers in North Carolina and four other Southern states to reduce carbon emissions and increase carbon sequestration in the soil.

Arnab Bhowmik, Ph.D., an assistant professor of soil science in A&T’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, will work with a project that will provide technical and financial assistance to more than 1,000 U.S. cotton farmers across the United States.

“We’re in the mix with some very large institutions and some very large projects. We’re holding our own,” said CAES Dean Mohamed Ahmedna, Ph.D. “They’re coming to us and we’re capitalizing.”

USDA announced in September it will invest up to $2.8 billion to 70 projects in the first round of funding in its Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program. USDA said it will announce a second round of projects later this year.

The federal agency said it expects these climate-smart projects to expand markets and revenue streams for commodity producers at more than 50,000 farms spanning more than 20 million acres and sequester the equivalent of 50 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Multiple historically Black universities are among the partners on these USDA-funded projects.

Dari, a soil scientist by training, will work with small-scale and underserved vegetable growers in five states in the Southern Piedmont to improve sustainable crop production by adopting climate-responsive agricultural practices. He will help identify social and economic barriers that prevent these farmers from adopting climate-smart practices and provide growers with information and technical assistance.

“Climate change is happening, and we cannot deny it,” said Dari. “It’ll be worse and worse if we do not take some steps now to modify its effects.”

Dari said he plans to perform multiple on-farm demonstrations at the N.C. A&T University Farm and at farms around the region to show the value of using cover crops, no-till techniques and other approaches to sequester carbon in the soil — a key tactic for reducing greenhouse gas emissions — and improve soil health.

“Seeing is believing for these farmers,” said Dari. “Just talking to farmers is not convincing enough because they have done the same things for years. You have to give them enough technical and financial support and show them the actual science.”

This project will receive up to $25 million in USDA funding. It will be led by the Rodale Institute, a Pennsylvania nonprofit that researches and promotes organic farming. Other major partners are University of Georgia, Virginia Association for Biological Farming, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Georgia Organics, Emory University, University of Georgia, University of Tennessee, Clemson University, North Carolina State University and University of Wisconsin-Madison. A&T’s funding share is approximately $550,000 over five years.

Bhowmik, a soil health expert in A&T’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Design, will be working on the U.S. Climate Smart Cotton Program in partnership with the Soil Health Institute. This project will encourage farmers in the “Cotton Belt” that stretches from Virginia to California to adopt climate-smart agricultural practices on more than 1 million acres.

Early on, Bhowmik will help identify eligible minority and under-resourced cotton farmers in North and South Carolina and connect them with technical and financial resources to adopt climate-smart practices. Later, he’ll provide measurement and verification of carbon levels in the soil and greenhouse gas emissions from selected fields.

The program, which will receive up to $90 million in USDA funding, hopes over the next five years to produce more than 4 million bales of climate-smart cotton and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1 million metric tons.

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is leading this project. Other major partners are the Soil and Water Outcomes Fund, Cotton Council International, Cotton Incorporated, Agricenter International, Texas A&M AgriLife and Alabama A&M University. Funding to A&T will be approximately $500,000 over five years.

“We’re really well positioned at A&T to help these farmers connect to farming practices we consider to be climate-smart,” said Bhowmik “Climate change is an existential threat, and we definitely want to make sure they become more resistant and resilient to the impact of climate change by adopting soil health management practices.”

Mark Blevins, Ed.D., assistant administrator for agricultural and natural resources with Cooperative Extension at A&T, said USDA has a new focus on developing climate-smart projects and involving minority-serving institutions in this work.

By tapping into their vast networks, Blevins added, the university and Cooperative Extension can bring the enormous benefits of multi-million-dollar projects to small and minority farmers in under-resourced communities.

“We’re experiencing a new day,” he said. “The value we bring to projects is very clearly seen.”

Media Contact Information: llbernhardt@ncat.edu

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