Heartland Waters Initiative

The challenge

Within 40 years, our planet will have to feed 10 billion people.

This explosion means we must produce more food in the next century than we have in the history of agriculture. The brunt will fall on the United States, where we have the most fertile soils, available water and technology to increase production. We will have to do this with less land, as agricultural properties are developed and degraded. We will have less water available for agriculture, due to rising needs and declining quality.

We must answer this challenge in a way that protects our environment.

Without clean water, this is impossible.

Clean water is essential for food production

Clean water is essential to ensure food safety.

Clean water is essential for human health

Clean water is essential for wildlife.

Contaminated water is bad for agriculture and urban communities downstream.

Keeping water clean is much more cost effective than cleaning it up.

We cannot expect more government funding to solve this problem.

Agriculture-related conservation funding peaked in 2009 and is expected to decline. State governments are struggling, and federal spending will be constrained for the foreseeable future. The upcoming federal Farm Bill provides an opportunity to rethink the way conservation dollars are spent in America.

We must find a way to get better results with less money.

Agriculture is among the greatest users of water and among the greatest contributors to water pollution, namely through nutrient runoff.

Leading experts call nutrient runoff one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems.

Nutrients aid plant growth and food production. But nutrients can be flushed from agricultural fields and pollute waterways. Nutrients and chemicals flushed from urban landscapes such as golf courses and even your lawn add to the problem. In some cases, such as Lake Erie and the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, nutrient runoff destroys life.

It’s a man-made problem, and we can fix it.

Traditionally conservation dollars have been used to set aside huge swaths of land and take them out of agricultural production. This has had many benefits, but improvements are possible.

We have built millions of miles of buffers that provide great benefits but do little to improve water quality because water flows around them, through artificial drainage like ditches and tiles.

Taking more and more land out of production is not sustainable for farmers or for our food needs. When crop prices are high, farmers are reluctant to let potentially productive land lie fallow. We need to improve environmental performance on working lands.

We can do better.

Just as farmers have embraced technology and sound business principles to improve their lands’ efficiency, we must do the same for conservation.

  • We can use technology to identify the most environmentally sensitive areas of a farm.
  • We can pinpoint specific areas where conservation is a more economically efficient use than agriculture.
  • We can identify the most efficient practices for those areas.
  • We can enhance natural wetlands’ ability to filter runoff.
  • We can capture or treat nutrients before they move off the fields to waterways.
  • We can effectively target vulnerable areas while protecting prime production areas.
  • We can work together — urban and rural residents alike — to find solutions.

We can ensure cleaner water at a cheaper price.

This new way of thinking will provide the maximum return on conservation investment.

As technology advances, so will our information and decision making, allowing us to prioritize spending in key areas that make sense, economically and ecologically. We can effectively target vulnerable areas while protecting prime production areas.

We will be able to better manage for environmental benefits and monitor the outcomes. The benefits to fish, wildlife — and man — will be enormous.

Costs will go down and the value to agriculture and the environment will go up.

To make this a reality, the McGraw Center for Conservation Leadership has assembled a team of leading experts in agriculture and conservation, representing such groups as:
  • Farmers
  • The conservation community
  • Scientists
  • Experts from state and federal agencies

Over the next year, this team will develop specific proposals to harness advancements in technology and agriculture and improve economic efficiencies in conservation spending.

These ideas will be shared with anyone who shares the belief that conservation and the protection of the environment is the key to health and well-being.

Ultimately our proposals will be seen and considered by the people crafting the federal Farm Bill — for more than three decades, the single most important conservation spending vehicle in the nation.

But we need your help.

We need your support and involvement to bring our proposals forward.

We need you to drive our work.

We need you to help make a fundamental change in the way conservation spending is designed, evaluated and sustained in this country, and to ensure clean water for agriculture, for wildlife, and for our children.

We have the vision. We have the team to advance that vision. Join us.