Your primary source of information for news from and about the University of Arizona.

Dec. 19, 2022

Media Advisory: USDA awards over $4.7M to support and promote 'climate-smart' food production

  • What: Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and University of Arizona will speak at a news conference announcing a USDA-funded project focused on climate-smart food production.
  • When: Tuesday, Dec. 20, 9 a.m.
  • Where: Rooftop garden at the Environment and Natural Resources 2 Building, 1064 E. Lowell Street
  • RSVP: RSVP to Nick Prevenas,

TUCSON, Ariz. – The University of Arizona, University of Maryland and three Arizona nonprofits have formed the Arizona Partnership for Climate-Smart Food Crops, a three-year project funded by over $4.7 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The project will focus on promoting climate-smart food production practices and helping farmers reduce water consumption and carbon emissions.

The UArizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are leading the project. Other partners include Tucson City of Gastronomy, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and Local First Arizona.

"Arizona can claim the highest water use per acre in any state for agriculture, and pumping all that water across the state also has energy costs," said project principal investigator Gary Nabhan, a research social scientist at the UArizona Southwest Center and the Kellogg Endowed Chair in Southwestern Borderlands Food and Water Security. "We are prepared to help farmers with problem solving in both to reduce their input costs and increase the value of their crops."

The following speakers will discuss the project at a news conference on Tuesday, Dec. 20, at 9 a.m.

  • Gloria Montaño Greene, deputy undersecretary for farm production and conservation at the USDA
  • Tucson Mayor Regina Romero  
  • Elizabeth "Betsy" Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation
  • Greg Barron-Gafford, co-principal investigator on the grant and a professor in the School of Geography, Development, and Environment

"There are many ways we can be more climate smart about how we produce food," said Barron-Gafford, who is also a Biosphere 2 research scientist. "This grant represents an investment in multiple ways of elevating climate-smart food production across Arizona and the drylands of the United States and beyond."

For example, Barron-Gafford wants to introduce more rural farmers to agrivoltaics, which uses solar panels to create shade over and around crops to reduce evaporation while the crops cool the panels to make them more energy efficient.

"On top of that, we hope to marry traditional Indigenous practices with renewable energy," Barron-Gafford said. One technique, called agroforestry, involves growing shade-providing trees over vegetable crops that are more vulnerable to heat and light stress. "This is a practice that Indigenous peoples have been using for millennia, so the team is asking how we might co-create new ways of applying these principles towards a more resilient food future," Barron-Gafford added. 

The researchers also will study how intermixing crops through a technique called strip cropping can prevent soil erosion, and they will focus on providing farmers with more native seeds that can survive the climate and water scarcity conditions predicted over the next few decades.

They also hope to promote smarter water harvesting techniques, like using solar panels to direct and collect rain runoff so that farmers don't have to rely so heavily on irrigation.

The project team plans to lease a commercial test kitchen to identify culinary qualities of climate-smart crops, conduct consumer research, promote a Desert Seed-to-Table program, and advance retail market development and a consumer awareness campaign.


Media contacts:
Nick Prevenas

University Communications

Mikayla Mace Kelley
University Communications

The University of Arizona, a land-grant university with two independently accredited medical schools, is one of the nation's top 50 public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. Established in 1885, the university is widely recognized as a student-centric university and has been designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. The university ranked in the top 20 in 2021 in research expenditures among all public universities, according to the National Science Foundation, and is a leading Research 1 institution with $770 million in annual research expenditures. The university advances the frontiers of interdisciplinary scholarship and entrepreneurial partnerships as a member of the Association of American Universities, the 66 leading public and private research universities in the U.S. It benefits the state with an estimated economic impact of $4.1 billion annually. For the latest on the University of Arizona response to the novel coronavirus, visit the university's COVID-19 webpage.

The University of Arizona Land Acknowledgement


Agriculture Agrivoltaics Climate College of Agriculture and Life Sciences College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Food Research