USDA and Montana Department of Agriculture Alum Joins EDF as Senior Policy Director

January 19, 2021
Hilary Kirwan, (202) 572-3277,

(AUSTIN, TX) Ben Thomas, former director of the Montana Department of Agriculture and deputy undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has joined Environmental Defense Fund as senior policy director for agriculture. In this newly created position, he will pursue policy solutions that help farmers and ranchers build climate and economic resilience.

"I was raised on a cotton and peanut farm in West Texas, and I know how critical farm policy can be in keeping family farms going through the worst of times," Thomas said. "In my years of work in state and federal government, I've also seen good ideas fail because they didn't work on the ground. EDF has shown real leadership in supporting policies that benefit America's farmers and ranchers, as well as the rural communities they live in. I'm excited to join EDF as we look to take on climate change, one of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing agriculture today."

EDF's Working Lands program aims to create a more resilient and just food system and scale nature-based climate solutions that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and increase climate resilience. Guided by science and economics, EDF finds solutions that make sense for farmers, ranchers and the environment.

EDF also forges effective partnerships across sectors, such as by co-chairing the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, which brings together environmental and agricultural stakeholders like the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture to jointly advocate for climate-smart agriculture legislation.

"I'm proud to congratulate Ben on his new endeavor at EDF. As a former NASDA member, Ben brings expert insight on how agricultural and environmental policies work at the farm and community level," said Dr. Barb Glenn, CEO of NASDA. "He served as the chief regulatory authority on agriculture and environment in his state, and he understands state agriculture departments' duty to serve citizens and farmers by nurturing a healthy environment. With his proven ability and background, Ben will do great work at EDF to further agricultural sustainability and climate resilience in the U.S."

Immediately prior to joining EDF, Ben served as Montana's director of agriculture. He also held multiple roles at USDA including: deputy undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, chief of staff for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services, special assistant to the administrator for the Risk Management Agency and program specialist for the Farm Service Agency. He also worked as senior adviser, counsel and legislative assistant to Sens. Max Baucus and John Walsh.  

"With the right policy and financial incentives, agriculture can be an even bigger part of the conservation solution," said Britt Groosman, vice president of Ecosystems at EDF. "With his deep expertise in farm production, federal and state policy, Ben is well positioned to help advance policies that incentivize resilient agriculture for farm and future."

# # #

One of the world’s leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund ( creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 2.5 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF’s scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter and our Growing Returns blog.