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.

Missouri Soil and Water Conservation Districts

The State Soil and Water Districts Commission was created in 1943 to administer the soil and water conservation districts and formulate policies and general programs for the saving of Missouri soil and water through the county 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. In 1996, Washington County became the last of Missouri's 114 counties to organize as a district.

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 on each board are resident county agricultural landowners or their legal representative elected to serve four-year terms. The fifth is a representative from University of Missouri Extension.

In 1982, Missouri was losing soil at a rate of 10.9 tons per acre each year on cropland, one of the highest rates 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 sales tax in 1984, now called the Parks, Soils and Water Sales Tax.  The tax funds are divided equally between the Department of Natural Resources Soil and Water Conservation Program and Missouri State Parks. Slightly more than two-thirds of Missouri voters renewed the tax in 1988 and 1996, and 70.8 percent voted in favor in 2006. In 2016, all 114 counties approved the sales tax renewal resulting in the highest approval to date at 80.1 percent.

Missouri’s soil and water program is 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 soil erosion rate dropped more than any other state with more than 10 million acres of cropland. It is estimated that more than 179 million tons of soil have been saved since passage of the sales tax.

The sales tax provides financial incentives that share the cost between the farmer and the state of implementing the installation of soil and water conservation practices that prevent or control excessive soil erosion and protect water quality.

Missouri has come a long way since the sales tax was first approved in 1984; however, there is still work to be completed. Issues affecting soil health, soil erosion, water quality can have detrimental effects on Missouri’s natural resources and agricultural productivity. Research and water quality monitoring can help verify that soil and water conservation practices are working as intended. With your continued support, we can help make Missouri an even better place to live, work and enjoy the outdoors.

Lafayette County Soil and Water Conservation District

The Lafayette County Soil and Water Conservation District was formed May of 1950. It was formed to assist landowners in conserving and improving soil, water, woodland and wildlife resources; to recommend and provide assistance in the planning and application of conservation measures; and to provide technical assistance for erosion control practices. The district is considered a local unit of government without taxing authority. The Lafayette County Soil and Water Conservation District works in conjunction with the Natural Resources Conservation Service which provides technical assistance to the district.

The first townships of the Lafayette County Soil and Water Conservation District were Lexington and Freedom. In May of 1952, Davis township was added. Clay, Sni-A-Bar and Washington townships were added in December of 1955. On April 23, 1957, Dover and Middleton townships were added making the district encompass the entire county.

An elected board of supervisors handles leadership of the district, which is composed of a chairman, vice-chairman, treasurer, secretary and one member. The secretary of the board is an ex-officio member represented by the University of Missouri Extension Center. A supervisor's term is four years. Areas of supervision established are Area I- Lexington and Clay; Area II-Washington and Sni-A-Bar; Area III-Dover and Middleton; and Area IV- Davis and Freedom.

The Lafayette County Soil and Water Conservation District office has always been located in Higginsville because of its central location in Lafayette County. It was first located at the old Mattingly's store on Main Street and moved to its present location on W. 19th Street in July 1958.

In 1958, the PL-566 (Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act) Program started for Lafayette County. The intended purpose was to control flooding, sheet and gully erosion. The district operates and maintains 99 structures located in three watershed subdistricts. The three watersheds encompass an area of approximately 126,425 acres or 198 square miles. The Tabo Creek Watershed began in January 1960 and is located between Higginsville and Lexington; it contains 64 structures. The Wellington-Napoleon Watershed began in December 1963 and is located between the west county line and Wellington; it contains 17 structures. The Little Sni-A-Bar Watershed began in June 1964; it is located between Lexington and Odessa and contains 18 structures.

Each watershed subdistrict has five trustees for supervision. A trustee's term is six years. A tax levy is assessed every year on each watershed to help with the cost of maintenance and repairs. Each structure in all three watersheds may or may not have more than one landowner responsible for minor maintenance work such as; controlled grazing, upkeep on fencing and weed and brush control.

The Lafayette County Soil and Water Conservation District is currently funded through the Missouri parks,  soils and water sales tax (one-tenth-of-one-percent) which was first voted upon in 1984, and then in 1989, 1996 and 2006. Funding is also received from the Lafayette County Commission which helps to finance the administration and staff of the district.The Missouri parks, soils and water sales tax funds the Missouri State Cost-Share Program and the Loan-Interest Share Program. The cost-share program began in July 1982 as an incentive to landowners to put mechanical practices on their land to control erosion. It began as a 50 percent reimbursement program and has grown to the current 75 percent level for placing standard grade terraces, terraces with tile outlets, diversions, water impoundment reservoirs, erosion control structures, grazing systems, permanent vegetative cover establishment and grassed waterways on their property. The loan-interest share program began in July 1985 and is an interest-refund incentive program that returns a portion of the interest to the participant on a conventional loan obtained for eligible practices (no-till drills, planters and accessories, scrapers, ridge-till planters, etc).

Free soil stewardship materials are offered to local churches in the county and an educational packet is given to each elementary school in Lafayette County. The district also has a video library available to the general public.

An annual banquet was held each year 1951- 2001. Since 2001, the Lafayette County Soil and Water Conservation District has held an annual open house to show the district's appreciation for our county farmers/producers, contractors and businesses for their continued support of district programs. The yearly elementary school poster contest winners are recognized with ribbons and a cash prize.

The Lafayette County Soil and Water Conservation District holds their meetings the last Wednesday of each month at the USDA Service Center in Higginsville; meetings are open to the public.