In the 1930s, as the Dust Bowl swept across the nation relocating an estimated 300 million tons of soil, Americans realized the devastating effects of soil erosion. Legislation began to take shape to better manage and conserve the nation’s soil. Despite these actions, Missouri was still plagued with high erosion rates.
The Soil and Water Districts Commission was created in 1943 to save, maintain, improve the soil, water and soil fertility of Missouri through the organization of soil and water conservation districts. Missouri joined the movement to localize soil and water efforts when Harrison County formed the first Soil and Water Conservation District in 1944 and by 1996, Washington County became the last of Missouri's 114 counties to organize into districts.
The Soil and Water Conservation Program carries out the policies of the Soil and Water Districts Commission following the Soil and Water Districts Law (Chapter 278, RSMo). The program promotes good farming techniques that help keep soil on the fields, our waters clean and conserves the productivity of Missouri’s working lands.
Each soil and water conservation district is governed by a board of five supervisors, responsible for all district actions and employees. Four supervisors from each board are county landowners elected to serve four-year terms. The fifth is a representative from University Extension.
In 1982, Missouri was losing soil at a rate of 10.9 tons per acre each year on cultivated cropland, the second highest rate of erosion in the nation. In order to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality as well as support Missouri state parks, Missouri voters passed a one-tenth-of-one-percent in 1984 now called the Parks, Soils and Water Sales Tax. Almost two-thirds of Missouri voters renewed the tax in 1988 and 1996 and 70.8 voted in favor in 2006. In 2016, all 114 counties approved the sales tax renewal resulting in the highest approval to date at 80 percent.
Missouri’s soil and water program is now a role model for the nation. Other states envy Missouri for its dedicated tax and support of soil and water conservation. Since 1982, Missouri’s erosion rate dropped more than any other state. It is estimated that more than 177 million tons of soil have been saved since the start of the sales tax.
The sales tax provides financial incentives to landowners for up to 75 percent of the cost for installation of soil conservation practices that prevent or control excessive erosion. Soil and water conservation districts provide technical support with the design, implementation and maintenance of practices.
Missouri has come a long way since the sales tax was first approved in 1984; however, there is still work to be completed. Unhealthy soil and soil erosion can have detrimental effects on Missouri’s natural resources and agricultural productivity. Additional research and water quality monitoring is necessary to identify new methods for soil and water conservation practices that produce the best results for preventing erosion and protecting water quality. With your continued support, we can help make Missouri an even better place to live, work and enjoy the outdoors.