Climate-Smart Beef - American Farmland Trust

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Climate-Smart Beef

Partnering with US beef producers to create lasting climate-smart beef markets

In September of 2022, American Farmland Trust and its 15 partners were recipients of a $30 million Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities grant as part of the flagship USDA program to reduce emissions in the production of agricultural commodities and to create new markets for climate-smart agricultural products. Our project focuses on climate-smart beef production, with the goal of increasing the adoption of low-emissions grazing and land management practices, fine-tuning measurement, monitoring, reporting, and verification (MMRV) of these practices, and developing the market for climate-smart beef for producers. Our project focuses on meeting the needs of small-scale and historically underserved producers, who comprise the majority of our network at each stage of the process. We will meet these producers’ needs through building and growing existing technical assistance and mentorship programs, creating locally-adapted, transparent MMRV, and helping producers reach new markets through the Integrity Beef Alliance and other opportunities.

This project builds upon and scales up multiple existing and highly successful pilot efforts that have followed beef production from farm to table, and that have built technical assistance into peer-to-peer farmer networks through mentorship programs.  The expansion of this project will help produce climate-smart beef for all levels of markets—from direct sales through local farmers’ markets to regional distribution channels and national and global consumer-facing food companies.

Producer and Partner Interest Form

Are you a beef producer, or do you work with beef producers? Sign up here to be notified when AFT’s Climate-Smart Beef Program opens for enrolling acres, enrolling cattle into the Integrity Beef Legacy Program, joining the mentoring network, becoming a mentor, or partnering in other ways. Eligible states: Texas (TX) Oklahoma (OK), Virgina (VA) Maryland (MA) Pennsylvania (PA) Georgia (GA) Alabama (AL) Mississippi (MS).

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Projected Impact

Our partnership will engage and train over 50 mentors, transition over 700 beef producers, of whom at least 600 will be small-scale or other underserved producers, to these low emissions grazing and land management practices, and map and improve over 500,000 acres. The project is predicted to provide a net greenhouse gas benefit of roughly 750,000 metric tons (t) of CO2e through a combination of soil carbon sequestration and reduced emissions by the end of the project.

    1. Barrier: Lack of adaptive producer-led emission reduction protocols
      Solution: Implement flexible but rigorous agricultural emissions-reduction protocols adaptable to a diversity of farms
      Emissions reduction protocols need to strike a balance between being both rigorous and flexible; measuring the key greenhouse gas emissions indicators while being adaptable to a wide range of farm/ranch sizes and conditions that reflect the diversity of agriculture in the real world.
      Too often, producers are handed rigid protocols or production requirements by program administrators who lack personal engagement in farming or ranching. A protocol designed without inherent flexibility or site context, or by someone with little to no direct agricultural experience, is unlikely to be adopted by producers.
      One key impact of this project will be demonstrating the viability of protocols developed by Integrity Beef and Regenified verification programs, which are 100% producer-led, principle-based, and flexible.
    2. Barrier: Lack of effective mentorship and support networks
      Solution: Creating a network of trusted advisors
      Project partners and numerous studies have demonstrated that producers, especially small-scale and underserved producers, often lack trusted sources for information and recommendations. Research shows that the five-year survival rate for small and mid-sized operations jumps from less than 50% to more than 70% if mentors are involved.
      To address this significant gap, American Farmland Trust will create a Regenerative Grazing Mentors Network of paid, highly-trained, local mentor producers who will provide most of the technical assistance as trusted advisors within their communities. AFT and partners will recruit mentors from diverse populations to ensure producers and mentors share similar experiences and perspective (including mentors who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, small-scale farmers, women, and veterans). The team will leverage, adapt, and scale the already successful AFT Mid-Atlantic mentorship program and adapt it to Southeastern underserved producers where some mentoring programs are nascent and have immense opportunity for producer impact.
      Through in-depth training, mentors will be better equipped to support their mentees successfully and lead workshops and networking groups that cover soil health, adaptive grazing, communication, family dynamics, record keeping and marketing. A subset of these mentors will also be certified as NRCS technical service providers (TSPs) for Soil Health, Grazing, and Nutrient Management Planning and associated practices.
    3. Barrier: Inherent challenges in marketing a new category of product (climate-smart) and lack of economies of scale
      Solution: Expanding markets for CS beef and mechanisms for access that help small-scale producers get a market premium for their beef.
      While growing, the market for climate-smart beef is relatively small in comparison to conventionally produced beef products. In addition, many small-scale and underserved producers do not have effective access to these value-added markets.
      To grow climate-smart market share, the project will first expand membership with existing regenerative cattle producers to scale availability and demand for climate-smart beef, which will create a market draw for new adopters. Within the current US beef industry’s supply chain structure, where the average herd size is about 40 cows per operation, it is challenging for a single producer to demand a market premium. However, when small-scale operations (usually defined as less than 100 head of cattle, which make up 90% of ranches in the U.S.) join forces, they can meet the volume necessary to bring climate-smart beef to both mid-size packers and major retail outlets across the nation, influencing consumer awareness in addition to supply chain carbon goals. Following the work of Integrity Beef’s pilot project, our goal is to quickly gain a critical mass of at least 10,000 head of cattle in its two marketing channels: 1.) certified carbon-neutral beef, and 2.) climate-smart beef to create market share and access within the existing beef supply chain. The project also provides a mechanism for producers of varied sizes, including underserved producers, to join forces to access markets and get a market premium for their beef.
By the Numbers


states in the South and Mid-Atlantic regions


beef producers (majority small-scale/underserved)


acres under management




t CO2e sequestered


in federal funding

Our Climate-Smart Methods

Our project leverages the nationally applicable NRCS Soil Health Management Systems (SHMS) (commonly known as the 4 Soil Health Principles) as adapted to grazing systems, including minimizing soil disturbance and maximizing soil cover, presence of living roots, and biodiversity (plants and appropriate livestock grazing integration). In addition to following the soil health principles, our project will focus on sequestering soil carbon and reducing nitrous oxide and methane emissions with targeted climate-smart practices

  • For carbon (C) sequestration in soil:
    • Intensive rotational grazing / Adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) grazing
    • Soil carbon amendments (such as biochar)
  • For reducing nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from pasture
    • Management of nutrients and soil conditions, plant cover, and legume growth
  • For reducing methane (CH4) emissions
    • Improved feeding approaches
Photo: Remington, VA, Jacob Gilley
Project Partners
  • Integrity Beef Alliance (IBeef)
    Integrity Beef (IBeef) Alliance is a 501(c)5 that combines cutting edge technology, regenerative ranching principles, and robust market drivers to deliver climate-smart beef to consumers. “IBeef Legacy” is the first producer-developed program in the nation recognized by the US Roundtable for Sustainable Beef in the cow-calf sector. Integrity Beef Legacy instills traceability throughout the entire beef supply chain, helping consumers make informed climate smart choices at their local grocery stores or farmers markets. This approach incentivizes regenerative production for producers of all scales within the nation’s beef supply chain.
  • Indigo Ag (Indigo)
    Indigo improves farmer profitability and environmental sustainability through efficient and credible digital technologies for GHG outcomes. Indigo is a leading expert in measurement/quantification, monitoring, reporting, and verification (MMRV) platforms for delivering registry-verified carbon credits.
  • Freedmen Heirs Foundation (FHF)
    Freedmen Heirs Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit with a laser focus on expediting change in the U.S. agriculture sector and bridging the gap between two worlds: Black farmers and the marketplace. Freedmen Heirs Foundation develops innovative program initiatives that strive to increase diversity and equity in U.S. agriculture and to effectively combat barriers via a relevant and holistic approach mutually beneficial for Black farmers, agribusiness, government, and industry stakeholders.
  • Earth Optics
    Earth Optics is an innovative soil sampling and mapping company that employs cutting-edge sensors and machine learning to efficiently generate high-accuracy soil carbon maps.
  • AgriWebb
    AgriWebb is the leading global livestock business management software, working to transform ranching operations and grazed livestock supply chains through software that is offline-capable and focused on advancing producer profitability and sustainability. The holistic digital platform enables data-driven insights and reporting to facilitate verification of practices and economic viability.
  • Regenified
    Regnified works with diversified livestock operations in addition to row crop and specialty crops producers, alongside food manufacturers and retailers to promote regenerative farming practices and the Regenified verified label. 
  • OpenTEAM
  • U.S. Biochar Initiative
  • Virginia Forage and Grasslands Council
  • Mountains to Bay Grazing Alliance
  • Black Family Land Trust
  • Minority & Veteran Farmers of the Piedmont
  • Farmer Veteran Coalition
Photo: Long Acre Farm, Virginia