Frequently Asked Questions

More about climate-smart agriculture, eligibility for farmers and ranchers, and Virginia Tech’s research. If you have additional questions, please get in touch!

The Alliance to Advance Climate-Smart Agriculture is a pilot project supported by USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities that will incentivize and reward farmers and ranchers for adopting climate-smart agricultural practices.  Our goal is to enhance agricultural productivity, benefit producers, and improve climate resilience.

Under the three-year, $80-million pilot program, the Alliance to Advance Climate-Smart Agriculture and its partners will help producers in Arkansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and Virginia prove the value of paying farmers and ranchers $100 per acre or animal unit for stewardship practices that deliver public value through carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas reduction, improved soil health, water quality, water conservation, and other environmental services.

The Alliance officially launched in September 2023 and will begin enrolling producers in 2024.  The pilot is led by Virginia Tech with participation from more than 14 state and national partners.

WHAT IS CLIMATE-SMART AGRICULTURE?

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an integrated approach to managing landscapes—cropland, livestock, forests and fisheries–that address the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon.

Read more about climate-smart agriculture here.

WHAT ARE THE RESEARCH OUTCOMES?

The pilot will be supported by research faculty at the Virginia Tech College of Agricultural and Applied Economics, the School of Animal Sciences, and the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Each one of the enrolled farms supports the Virginia Tech research agenda:

  • Measure the impact of climate-smart practices on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration;
    • If scaled nationally, the pilot’s estimated impact could reduce the agriculture sector’s emissions by 55% and total U.S. emissions by 8% after ten years.
  • Quantify the economic and environmental benefits from adopting climate-smart practices;
  • Estimate impacts on productivity following adoption of climate-smart practices;
  • Evaluate consumer willingness to pay for various climate-smart labels; and
  • Design incentives to support high-cost high-impact GHG mitigating opportunities in the livestock sector*

Read more about the pilot’s research agenda here.

*The Livestock Working Group will be established in Minnesota and Virginia to implement high-value and high-cost climate-smart practices in Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs). The sub-pilot will implement a separate program for practices specific to swine, dairy, poultry, and beef operations, including basic lagoon covers, collectors and converters, separators, and composting systems.

ELIGIBILITY

The Alliance is open to farmers and ranchers within select counties in Arkansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Virginia.  The applicant selection model, developed by researchers at Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, includes criteria such as diversity of commodities, operation size, underrepresented producers, and previous adoption of climate-smart practices.  Over three years, the program will enroll an estimated 1,100–1,200 farms in each of the four states, for a total reach of 4,400 — 4,800 operations.

To align with the Justice40 goals to include Historically Underserved Farmers and Ranchers, at least 40% of participants will be underserved – reaching at least 1,800 operations across the four participating states.  These producers will qualify for an additional equity payment to help them install climate-smart practices.

Applications will open soon!  To be notified when applications open for eligible producers, please sign up for our newsletter.

CAN EARLY ADOPTERS OF CLIMATE-SMART AGRICULTURE JOIN?

Absolutely!

To design a pilot program that does not penalize early adoption, Virginia Tech’s model will quantify both the total and additional greenhouse gas benefits.  Using national data, current climate-smart practices will be subtracted and both total and additional greenhouse gas impacts will be reported.  The Advisory Council will use those model insights to develop recommendations on how to account for total greenhouse gas benefits while fairly compensating early adopters.

Eligible practices will include those that require implementation year after year.  For example, if a grower adds cover crops each year, this practice would qualify for the financial incentive only for the year the grower has enrolled in the Alliance.

Ineligible practices include those that were installed prior to enrolling in the Alliance and will be continued as previously applied.  For example, if a producer installed new fencing for Prescribed Grazing (E528R) prior to enrolling, or previously implemented No-Till Residue and Tillage Management (E329D), they could not use these practices when applying for the Alliance.

  • Note: If a producer currently maintains or previously installed a climate-smart practice, they may choose to add an additional, previously unused, enhancement if the option improves greenhouse gas reduction or increases carbon sequestration.  Producers may also choose to install a previously used practice on new acres or animal units.

If you are a farmer or rancher currently following climate-smart practices, you may still be eligible to participate in the Alliance.

Applications will open soon!  To be notified when applications open for eligible producers, please sign up for our newsletter.

PAYMENTS

The pilot program will pay producers $100 per acre or animal unit*, per year, for voluntary adoption of climate-smart practices.  Eligible producers may apply with up to two unique Farm Service Agency numbers, each with a cap of 160 acres or animals, for a potential enrollment total of 320 acres or animals.  Producers may only receive one payment per acre or animal unit. Installing, maintaining, or enhancing multiple practices on the same acre or animal unit will not increase the payment.

To align with the Justice40 goals to include Historically Underserved Farmers and Ranchers, at least 40% of participants will be underserved – reaching at least 1,800 operations across the four participating states.  These producers will qualify for an additional equity payment to help them install climate-smart practices, including an upfront payment.

The public environmental benefits – soil health, water quality, pollinator and wildlife habitat and air quality – are estimated to exceed this financial incentive.  Over three years, Virginia Tech researchers will collect and quantify the greenhouse gas benefits resulting from climate-smart agriculture.  All enrolled farmers and ranchers will self-report** the impact of these practices using COMET-Planner.

The Alliance will also partner with the Sustainable Food Lab to develop a prototype climate-smart certificate that producers can use to market climate-smart commodities to the American public.

*Please note that Minnesota and Virginia will participate in the livestock sub-pilot, which will implement a separate payment structure for practices specific to Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs).

**The Alliance will use the USDA best practice of producer self-verification and select audits, which the Congressional Budget Office has found effective in similar programs.

APPROVED PRACTICES AND ENHANCEMENTS

Qualifying practices have been selected from USDA-NRCS Conservation Practice Standards.  All practices will meet approved NRCS standards.  When a producer applies, they will select a practice standard from the list below, and at least one corresponding practice enhancement to install on their farm.

For a complete list including practice enhancements, please see our Approved Practices guide.

To address the variety of grazing and rangeland ecologies and economies, a Livestock Working Group will be established in Minnesota and Virginia to implement high-value and high-cost climate-smart practices in Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs).  The sub-pilot will implement a separate payment structure for practices specific to swine, dairy, poultry, and beef operations, including basic lagoon covers, collectors and converters, separators, and composting systems.

UNDERSERVED FARMERS AND RANCHERS

To align with the Justice40 goals to include Historically Underserved Farmers and Ranchers*, at least 40% of participants will be underserved – reaching at least 1,800 operations across the four participating states.  These producers will qualify for an additional equity payment.

Historically underserved farmers and ranchers will include beginning producers, 100% women-owned operations, small producers, veteran producers, socially disadvantaged producers, and limited resource producers, 100% women-owned operations, and small producers.  More detail below.



 

*As defined by USDA

FAQs

The Alliance to Advance Climate-Smart Agriculture is a pilot project supported by USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities that will incentivize and reward farmers and ranchers for adopting climate-smart agricultural practices.  Our goal is to enhance agricultural productivity, benefit producers, and improve climate resilience.

Under the three-year, $80-million pilot program, the Alliance to Advance Climate-Smart Agriculture and its partners will help producers in Arkansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and Virginia prove the value of paying farmers and ranchers $100 per acre or animal unit for stewardship practices that deliver public value through carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas reduction, improved soil health, water quality, water conservation, and other environmental services.

The Alliance officially launched in September 2023 and will begin enrolling producers in 2024.  The pilot is led by Virginia Tech with participation from more than 14 state and national partners.

What is climate-smart agriculture?

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an integrated approach to managing landscapes—cropland, livestock, forests and fisheries–that address the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon.

Read more about climate-smart agriculture here.

What are the research outcomes?

The pilot will be supported by research faculty at the Virginia Tech College of Agricultural and Applied Economics, the School of Animal Sciences, and the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Each one of the enrolled farms supports the Virginia Tech research agenda:

  • Measure the impact of climate-smart practices on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration;
    • If scaled nationally, the pilot’s estimated impact could reduce the agriculture sector’s emissions by 55% and total U.S. emissions by 8% after ten years.
  • Quantify the economic and environmental benefits from adopting climate-smart practices;
  • Estimate impacts on productivity following adoption of climate-smart practices;
  • Evaluate consumer willingness to pay for various climate-smart labels; and
  • Design incentives to support high-cost high-impact GHG mitigating opportunities in the livestock sector*

Read more about the pilot’s research agenda here.

*The Livestock Working Group will be established in Minnesota and Virginia to implement high-value and high-cost climate-smart practices in Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs). The sub-pilot will implement a separate program for practices specific to swine, dairy, poultry, and beef operations, including basic lagoon covers, collectors and converters, separators, and composting systems.

What farms are eligible?

The Alliance is open to farmers and ranchers within select counties in Arkansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Virginia.  The applicant selection model, developed by researchers at Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, includes criteria such as diversity of commodities, operation size, underrepresented producers, and previous adoption of climate-smart practices.  Over three years, the program will enroll an estimated 1,100–1,200 farms in each of the four states, for a total reach of 4,400 — 4,800 operations.

To align with the Justice40 goals to include Historically Underserved Farmers and Ranchers, at least 40% of participants will be underserved – reaching at least 1,800 operations across the four participating states.  These producers will qualify for an additional equity payment to help them install climate-smart practices.

Applications will open soon!  To be notified when applications open for eligible producers, please sign up for our newsletter.

Can early adopters of climate-smart agriculture apply?

Absolutely!

To design a pilot program that does not penalize early adoption, Virginia Tech’s model will quantify both the total and additional greenhouse gas benefits.  Using national data, current climate-smart practices will be subtracted and both total and additional greenhouse gas impacts will be reported.  The Advisory Council will use those model insights to develop recommendations on how to account for total greenhouse gas benefits while fairly compensating early adopters.

Eligible practices will include those that require implementation year after year.  For example, if a grower adds cover crops each year, this practice would qualify for the financial incentive only for the year the grower has enrolled in the Alliance.

Ineligible practices include those that were installed prior to enrolling in the Alliance and will be continued as previously applied.  For example, if a producer installed new fencing for Prescribed Grazing (E528R) prior to enrolling, or previously implemented No-Till Residue and Tillage Management (E329D), they could not use these practices when applying for the Alliance.

  • Note: If a producer currently maintains or previously installed a climate-smart practice, they may choose to add an additional, previously unused, enhancement if the option improves greenhouse gas reduction or increases carbon sequestration.  Producers may also choose to install a previously used practice on new acres or animal units.

If you are a farmer or rancher currently following climate-smart practices, you may still be eligible to participate in the Alliance.

Applications will open soon!  To be notified when applications open for eligible producers, please sign up for our newsletter.

How much are farmers paid?

The pilot program will pay producers $100 per acre or animal unit*, per year, for voluntary adoption of climate-smart practices.  Eligible producers may apply with up to two unique Farm Service Agency numbers, each with a cap of 160 acres or animals, for a potential enrollment total of 320 acres or animals.  Producers may only receive one payment per acre or animal unit. Installing, maintaining, or enhancing multiple practices on the same acre or animal unit will not increase the payment.

To align with the Justice40 goals to include Historically Underserved Farmers and Ranchers, at least 40% of participants will be underserved – reaching at least 1,800 operations across the four participating states.  These producers will qualify for an additional equity payment to help them install climate-smart practices, including an upfront payment.

The public environmental benefits – soil health, water quality, pollinator and wildlife habitat and air quality – are estimated to exceed this financial incentive.  Over three years, Virginia Tech researchers will collect and quantify the greenhouse gas benefits resulting from climate-smart agriculture.  All enrolled farmers and ranchers will self-report** the impact of these practices using COMET-Planner.

The Alliance will also partner with the Sustainable Food Lab to develop a prototype climate-smart certificate that producers can use to market climate-smart commodities to the American public.

*Please note that Minnesota and Virginia will participate in the livestock sub-pilot, which will implement a separate payment structure for practices specific to Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs).

**The Alliance will use the USDA best practice of producer self-verification and select audits, which the Congressional Budget Office has found effective in similar programs.

What practices are approved?

Qualifying practices have been selected from USDA-NRCS Conservation Practice Standards.  All practices will meet approved NRCS standards.  When a producer applies, they will select a practice standard from the list below, and at least one corresponding practice enhancement to install on their farm.

For a complete list including practice enhancements, please see our Approved Practices guide.

To address the variety of grazing and rangeland ecologies and economies, a Livestock Working Group will be established in Minnesota and Virginia to implement high-value and high-cost climate-smart practices in Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs).  The sub-pilot will implement a separate payment structure for practices specific to swine, dairy, poultry, and beef operations, including basic lagoon covers, collectors and converters, separators, and composting systems.

How will the reach underserved farmers and ranchers?

To align with the Justice40 goals to include Historically Underserved Farmers and Ranchers*, at least 40% of participants will be underserved – reaching at least 1,800 operations across the four participating states.  These producers will qualify for an additional equity payment.

Historically underserved farmers and ranchers will include beginning producers, 100% women-owned operations, small producers, veteran producers, socially disadvantaged producers, and limited resource producers, 100% women-owned operations, and small producers.  More detail below.

Socially Disadvantaged Producers

Groups that have been subject to racial or ethnic prejudice, such as farmers who are Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Hispanic or Latino, and Asian or Pacific Islander.

Limited Resource Producers

A farmer or rancher who has direct or indirect gross farm sales not more than the current indexed value in each of the previous 2 years, and,

has a total household income at or below the national poverty level for a family of four in each of the previous 2 years, or

has a total household income less than 50 percent of the county median household income in each of the previous 2 years.

To determine if you qualify as LRF, USDA provides an online self-determination tool at https://lrftool.sc.egov.usda.gov/.

*As defined by USDA