Source: Monsanto

A new initiative aims to reduce nutrient and sediment movement into the United States' largest river system, the Mississippi River. Monsanto is partnering with multiple agricultural and conservation groups that are working with farmers to help reduce runoff from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Nature Conservancy, the Iowa Soybean Association and Delta Wildlife are all working collaboratively with farmers to remove nutrients and sediment from agricultural runoff in the Mississippi River Basin. The National Audubon Society is working with homeowners and others to implement measures which can improve wildlife habitat and the quality of water entering the Mississippi River. The new initiative by Monsanto will advance the group's work and help determine the effectiveness of various conservation measures on improving wildlife habitat and water quality.

"The Mississippi River is an ecological treasure and an economic powerhouse," said Michael Reuter, who oversees The Nature Conservancy's Great Rivers Partnership, which was created to help advance conservation of the world's major river systems, including the Mississippi. "This new effort by Monsanto will help show how we can make farming and conservation in the Mississippi River Basin more compatible so that nature and people alike benefit from improved water quality and enhanced wildlife habitat."

"We're proud to work on this bold conservation initiative which we believe offers a sustainable vision for agricultural landscapes wherein farmers can support our world's growing needs for food, fiber and fuel in ways that not only preserve water quality, but also support diverse and abundant wildlife populations," said Jerry Steiner, executive vice president at Monsanto. "We believe this initiative can serve as an important stepping stone toward the goal of preserving natural resources and wildlife in the Mississippi River Basin for future generations."

The Nature Conservancy will conduct a three-year conservation pilot in four watersheds in the Upper Mississippi River basin that include the Root River in southeastern Minnesota, the Pecatonica River in southern Wisconsin, the Boone River in northern Iowa and the Mackinaw River in central Illinois. The Conservancy will work with local partners, including farmers, in those watersheds to implement and study conservation techniques that best lower nutrient and sediment concentrations by reducing runoff from agricultural landscapes. Through this project, the Conservancy will seek to determine which tools work best in a larger, sub-watershed system and will then communicate findings to crop producers to guide their farm stewardship decisions.

The Iowa Soybean Association will conduct research on paired, micro watersheds in two areas: the Boone and Raccoon Rivers. The group will also coordinate conservation outreach in those watersheds, which includes monitoring, measurement and evaluation of on-farm resources and environmental outcomes.

Delta Wildlife will install Best Management Practices (BMPs) on approximately 1,000 sites on working farms in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta region of the Lower Mississippi Valley. BMPs will be designed to reduce off-site movement of nutrients and sediments while providing secondary environmental benefits in the form of improved fish and wildlife habitat and water conservation. The project will include a monitoring and assessment component that will thoroughly document accrued environmental benefits.

Data collected from all projects will be reported on annually and is expected to generate novel approaches which can be implemented more broadly across rural landscapes. Crop producers will be directly involved in the respective projects. Findings from all projects will be shared with farmers regularly so that they can observe and adapt cultural practices that preserve water quality and improve wildlife habitat.

Audubon will raise awareness of how people can be good stewards of nature in their own backyards. The project will focus on promoting specific individual actions to enhance water quality and habitat for birds and other wildlife. Audubon will broadly communicate these best practices throughout the Mississippi River watershed.

Monsanto will commit more than $5 million to support all of the projects. Monsanto will also work actively with all the four groups to share data generated from all projects with its farmer customers. The company will also encourage on-farm adoption of management practices that contribute to water quality.

The projects are expected in the near term to offer to the agricultural community a comprehensive approach to improving the health of the Mississippi River. They are also expected to generate best practices that may be integrated into management plans designed to conserve major river systems around the world.

Monsanto and its conservation partners, along with grower associations including the American Soybean Association and the National Corn Growers Association also announced that they will be forming a Mississippi River Farm Nutrient Working Group. The group expects to engage other agricultural-related interests, government leaders and other interested organizations in this group. Additional information on this group will be announced in spring 2009.

The group is expected to engage additional experts in an effort to share findings and best practices, raise awareness and broaden restoration efforts along the Mississippi River. The gGroup will also discuss what might be needed to help farmers implement stewardship projects at a higher rate, and see what can be done to provide incentives or enabling policies to assist them in doing this.