Climate Smart Agriculture: Tips for Produce Growers

The USDA National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) has announced that for fiscal 2024, they are increasing Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation (CSAF) activities that are eligible for Inflation Reduction Act funding through EQIP. Their list of nine mitigation categories starts with soil health, which is a good place to focus initial Climate Smart Agriculture efforts. Produce growers’ soil health improvement efforts might include no-till, cover crops, or precision irrigation management.

What are the goals of climate smart agriculture for produce growers?

The end game for fruit and vegetable growers is to boost soil carbon absorption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through improvements in productivity, adaptation, and mitigation. It might take many seasons to reach target goals so it’s important to make a plan so you can measure and adapt.

According to NRCS, “irrigation management plans combine conservation principles with efficiency, balancing the farm’s water needs with those of nature. Tools like drip irrigation, which provides water precisely where and when it’s needed, can achieve greater precision with flow meters and soil moisture sensors.”

Cost effective ways to start on the path to Climate Smart Agriculture

Irrigation management is a valuable tool for produce growers. Not only can it help with conservation and climate smart goals, it is an area where produce growers can see ROI very quickly. In many produce growing regions, water is a precious commodity and as water tables drop, pumping water can be very expensive.

Fruit and vegetable growers should adopt process control measures that enable them to monitor and tune their practices that reduce inputs while optimizing yields. Process control helps lead to continuous improvement over time since evolving climate smart practices doesn’t happen overnight. Improvements to irrigation management go hand in hand with managing nutrient inputs, reducing waste and runoff.

Fine tune irrigation using below ground sensors combined with drip or precision irrigation to efficiently determine the timing and amount of each irrigation for each crop type. It’s not just about learning if the soil is moist or not. It’s about learning whether the specific crops are getting the water and nutrients they need at critical times throughout the season. Technology such as Crophesy Climate Smart Soil Intelligence saves specialty crop growers such as water melon growers hundreds of dollars a week by giving them the real-time data they need to make informed irrigation decisions. Specialty crop growers can make crucial, timely decisions by seeing how much water the crop is consuming and what’s available via easy to read charts on a tablet or mobile device, without having to visit the fields.

Looking for more resources? Organic fruit and vegetable growers can check out The National Organic Initiative funded through EQIP. Leading Harvest is a non-profit organization working to harmonize sustainability standards across the food sector. Read more about Climate Smart irrigation best practices at