Environmental Defense Fund: A seldom-seen side of advocacy

markie hageman


It might be difficult to figure out which organizations are for, or against, farmers and ranchers. If a person isn’t careful, they could support a cause that doesn’t share similar views. Doing so could be devastating to an industry that needs more allies than ever.

When it comes to the environment, the agriculture industry is no stranger to being attacked and blamed for issues such as climate change. Farmers and ranchers hold a lot of contempt for those two words. They are aware there are various agricultural practices for livestock and crops, like conventional and organic, and know it will take all methods to ensure the world has plentiful, high-quality food to feed a growing population. Having to fight back against sensationalized claims requires putting their focus on trivial things rather than working to improve the industry. Knowing which organizations are aligned with their values means they have someone else fighting for them so they can keep doing their jobs.

The Environmental Defense Fund was incorporated in 1967, after working to ban the pesticide DDT nationwide and finding the need to help improve the environment through various initiatives. While they have a department focused solely on agricultural needs, it is not their only focus. They have such projects as working to improve gas and oil pollution and restoring fisheries.

In the ag sector, the EDF doesn’t take a broad position on genetically engineered crops, stating that each new biotech product should be evaluated individually. Their website says: “EDF recognizes the use of biotechnology as a legitimate deployment of science in the search for effective solutions, and also recognizes that past deployment of some biotechnology products has caused legitimate concerns.”

Similarly, the organization appears to understand the nuances of production methods, like using organic or conventional growing methods. The EDF says, “Rather than asking which system comes out ahead, we must focus on how farms perform. In some cases, conventional methods will have higher yields as well as a smaller environmental impact.”

They are advocates for sustainable agriculture, and have three major initiatives of interest to the food industry they are currently working towards. They are:

Improve sustainability of commodity crop production

They state that “fertilizer is the engine of agriculture,” but it can cause water and air pollution, so they are working to make fertilizer use more efficient. They have partnered with Walmart to help farmers be more conservative with on-farm practices. By following these guidelines, 3.6 million acres of corn have improved soil health, reduced fertilizer loss, and implemented conservation practices. This means safer drinking water, less algae blooms in lakes, rivers, and the Gulf of Mexico, and less of a risk on fish populations.

Protect wildlife on working lands

EDF believes that there is too much regulation and burden on landowners, which negatively affects their ability to help at-risk wildlife. Through their Safe Harbor Program, the Environmental Defense Fund promotes the protection of wildlife with government incentives without further regulations. This program helped create Habitat Exchanges, which allow farmers and ranchers to profit from creating safe habitats for wildlife, like the Monarch Butterfly. Additionally, state and federal fish and wildlife departments commonly use this program to restore acreage and provide protection to various species.

Reward farmers for smart water use

In California, the EDF is working on an initiative with water management to provide better water access, create a healthier environment and more prosperous communities. They hope to achieve this through specific reforms they have listed in their “Better Access. Healthier Environment. Prosperous Communities. Recommended Reforms for the California Water Market”:

  • Improve market transparency by, among other things, standardizing and publicly disclosing supporting data for all transfers.
  • Reduce transaction costs and eliminate barriers to participation by, among other things, establishing a new entity to coordinate the approval process and develop a centralized exchange platform.
  • Ensure benefits to disadvantaged communities and the environment by incorporating incentive mechanisms into the market.
  • Free up more water for sharing by rewarding transfers that achieve water savings.
  • Alleviate pressure on overstressed aquifers by integrating markets into implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

California Ag Today wrote a piece about the Environmental Defense Fund a few years back, discussing whether they were aligned with the farming industry in the state. Be sure to look more into other initiatives that EDF is working on, and do heavy research before supporting any organization that is fighting on the farmer’s and rancher’s behalves so you can ensure their values align with yours.


Markie Hageman majored in agribusiness at Fort Hays State University. She is actively involved in her state Cattlemen’s Association, Young Farmers chapter, and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Her AGDAILY.com articles can be found here.

Sponsored Content on AGDaily
Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of AGDAILY. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.