Corn Growers Partner with Environmental Defense Fund for Conservation

By Sonja Begemann and John Herath

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) announced what may seem a surprising alliance this week, partnering with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on sustainability efforts. While the organizations don’t always agree, they found common ground in encouraging farmers to take advantage of conservation practices.

“Our histories have had definitely differing opinions and different platforms but we’ve all had the same goal for a very long time and that’s improving the environment,” says Nathan Fields, NCGA vice president of production and sustainability. “We partnered with them [recently] on a big project called the Soil Health Partnership.”

The Soil Health Partnership is one area farmers should expect to continue seeing impact from these two organizations. Fields also says expect to see more in the area of monarch butterfly conservation soon.

“This is a big step and what you need to understand is that NCGA and EDF have both walked into this very cautiously, and we both walked into it in a way that has been very open that we’re not going to agree on 100% of things,” he adds. “[But] let’s not let that hurt what we can agree on, so we’re walking very cautiously, but there’s a lot of power that can be derived out of this.”

He calls their previous collaboration a success and says this continued partnership will allow the organizations to explore new opportunities.

The groups will give priority to the following areas:

  • Data and measurement: improve tracking water quality, soil health and greenhouse gas emissions, and scale technology solutions for data reporting and analysis
  • On-farm engagement: increase farmer and agronomist knowledge of conservation tools and practices
  • Policy advocacy: support incentive-based, voluntary conservation programs that have measurable environmental impact
  • Finance and economics: identify and grow opportunities for farmers to benefit economically from practices such as cover crops and conservation tillage
  • Outreach and communications: connect the gap between consumers and farmers

“EDF and NCGA have been working together for many years,” says Suzy Friedman, EDF senior director for ag sustainability. “For work in agriculture, working with farmers and working and learning from their associations has always been very important.”

Formalizing this partnership helps the two organizations hold each other accountable to goals, Fields adds.

“Working together with NCGA to us and to NCGA makes a lot of sense,” Friedman says. “It also opens up a lot of doors and opens a lot of minds when two non-traditional partners bring an idea together or go into a conversation—it wakes people up.”

And ultimately Friedman notes sustainability must include profitability for growers. That, she says, will be the pursuit of this new alliance.

I think there's a growing recognition that sustainability needs to be about both the economics and the environmental outcomes,” Friedman says. “Real sustainability will mean that farmers are more resilient to extreme weather, have reduced risk when it comes to regulations, have stronger relationships in the marketplace, are meeting consumer demands and have better relationships in their communities because they're better able to show the value that they're providing to resources in that community.

“In one year I really want us to be able to point to the value that is going back to growers and building of initiatives that can further grow,” she adds.