Corn farmers, enviros unite ahead of farm bill

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2018

An environmental organization and the main lobbying group for corn farmers said they’ve signed a formal agreement to work together on farmland conservation, as Congress tries to wrap up the 2018 farm bill.

The National Corn Growers Association and Environmental Defense Fund will advocate together on conservation policies, including on federal regulations and legislation, as well as encouraging private industry to invest more in sustainable agriculture, said Suzy Friedman, senior director for agricultural sustainability for EDF.

Today’s agreement amounts to a marriage on issues that EDF and NCGA have informally joined on in recent years, Friedman said. While much of the work centers on the farm bill, the groups will work on Endangered Species Act issues and encourage new methods for farmers to measure how effective their conservation practices are, she said.

If Congress completes the farm bill this year as leaders say they intend, conservation programs will be in the mix and may require regulatory tweaks.

“The public expects greater stewardship and transparency from farmers, and it’s critical for the agricultural sector to show leadership on conservation,” said Nathan Fields, vice president of production and sustainability at NCGA, in a news release. “EDF and NCGA are stronger together. We have different expertise and perspectives, and combining them is a real opportunity.”

NCGA, which represents more than 40,000 dues-paying members, and EDF have already joined forces on an NCGA-run project called the Soil Health Partnership, which works with universities to collect data on practices such as reduced tillage and the use of cover crops, which are grown to protect and improve soil when the main crop isn’t in the ground.

Farmers need more detailed information about the benefits of those practices, and the new alliance could help deliver it to them, Friedman said.

The two organizations aren’t in lockstep on every issue. NGCA advocates strongly for use of corn in ethanol, which is supported by the federal renewable fuel standard. EDF has largely stayed out of that policy fight, but other environmental groups say the RFS harms the environment by turning marginal lands into cornfields and increasing the use of farm chemicals.

EDF, with more than 2 million members, grew out of the 1960s campaign to ban the pesticide DDT, which was effective against mosquitoes but poisoned birds and crustaceans. It later focused on partnerships with corporations, looking for market-based solutions to environmental problems.

Among other advocacy, EDF fought the nomination of Michael Dourson to head EPA’s toxics office last year, saying his ties to the chemical industry posed a conflict of interest. He withdrew from consideration last December.

NCGA had signed on to a letter from farm organizations urging his swift confirmation, calling him “extremely qualified” because of his experience in toxicology and preparation of risk assessments.