Stories in Missouri

Sustainable Agriculture

Working with Missouri farmers, we take a balanced approach to sustainable agriculture with a shared goal benefiting the land and their bottom line.

A small group of cattle in a grassy field.
Grassbank Cattle on the grassbank at Dunn Ranch Prairie in Missouri. © Kristy Stoyer/TNC

MO Climate-Resilient Crop and Livestock (CRCL)

The statewide Missouri Climate-Resilient Crop and Livestock Incentive Payment Programs are open. Applications for various programs are being accepted now through January 2024

Visit the Missouri CRCL website for more information. 

There are 95,000 farms in Missouri, second most in the United States—and that makes agriculture one of our greatest opportunities for conservation.

More than 90% of the farms here are family owned, and the nearly 28 million total acres devoted to agriculture in Missouri cover two-thirds of the state. The Nature Conservancy works with Missouri’s growers as well as our conservation partners to put sustainable practices into action. That’s crucial, not just for the viability of those farmers and ranchers, but for the health of our rivers and streams. Currently, Missouri is the leading phosphorous contributor in the Mississippi River basin. The Grand River watershed in northwest Missouri is a high contributor in the state. Runoff flows downriver and contributes to the hypoxic zone, “dead zone,” in the Gulf of Mexico.

To make the biggest impact on conservation, solutions have to work for farmers and the environment. Research and the science that comes from it is leading the way to this adaptive management as more demand is placed on every acre of land. The pressure on both is greater than ever. Increased demand for food from a growing population combined with economic shifts and climate change are constantly raising the stakes.

But there are answers.

TNC’s work in sustainable agriculture offers models that can be used widely to increase profits and protect our land and water resources. Whether it’s testing new strategies to mitigate farmers’ risks, planting natural buffers along rivers to stop erosion, promoting new climate-smart practices or partnering on wide-ranging campaigns for smart use of fertilizers and grazing intensities, we are invested in helping Missouri’s farms and ranches remain strong and sustainable into the future.

Learn More About 4R Practices

Check out these educational videos from Show Me Nutrient Stewardship

Watch the Videos

4R Nutrient Reduction Program

Think of the 4R program as farming backed by scientific data and logistical support.

It is about using fertilizer efficiently to save money while protecting the land and water from harmful runoff. No one who grows crops wants to pay for expensive nutrients that are going to wash away, but a lot of variables can make it hard to figure out how to avoid it.

That’s where the program’s four “rights” come in: using the right fertilizer source at the right rate at the right time in the right place. Soil testing through TNC’s current pilots use the Nutri-Track system developed by TNC’s retail partner MFA, Inc., which helps create individualized fertilizing plans for farmers and ensures the plans are working in the future.

Graphic showing details of the what the 4Rs stand for.
Understanding the 4Rs Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place

The right source matches fertilizer type to crop needs. The right rate matches amount of fertilizer to crop needs. The right time makes nutrients available when crops need them. The right place keeps nutrients where crops can use them.

TNC joined a diverse group of collaborators with help from the Missouri Fertilizer Control Board, select ag retailers and Soil and Water Conservation Districts to launch the 4R program in 2018, and thousands of acres across the state have been enrolled since then. We have a goal to enroll 250,000 acres by 2025.

That will help farmers’ bottom line and improve water quality all the way from Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico.

Little Creek Farm

The Nature Conservancy bought Little Creek Farm in 2017 and has turned its 217 acres into a center of agricultural innovation.

Overlooking the rolling hills of Dunn Ranch Prairie, which sits just across the road, the property is more than just a farm with a view. It serves as TNC’s first sustainable grazing demonstration farm in Missouri. With our partners, we’re testing strategies that benefit farmers and the environment.

A man standing in front of a herd of cattle.
Little Creek Farm Ryan Cox stands with his cattle on Little Creek Farm. © Kristy Stoyer/TNC

Local rancher Ryan Cox leases the land from TNC and collaborates with our staff on sustainable practices. Interseeding warm-season native grasses have improved the health and biodiversity of pastures, and Cox rotates his herd through the farm’s twelve paddocks instead of leaving them in one or two pastures to chew the grass to the ground. That’s extended the grazing season and allowed Cox to run more cows per acre.

The farm’s namesake has been improved, too. A major stream restoration project completed in 2022 repaired the eroded banks of Little Creek and created an underwater wedge that reconnects more than five miles of aquatic habitat. This is critical to the passage upstream into the headwaters for the federally listed Topeka shiner. That’s great news for the creek's health and aquatic system here in this portion of the Great Plains.

Flowing creek with gradual stream banks and green vegetation surrounding the floodplain.
Severely eroded streambank with trees and brush falling into a small creek.
Before & After Before restoration, the streambanks of Little Creek were severely eroding, dumping harmful nutrients and sediment into the stream and limiting aquatic habitat. Now, the free-flowing creek is loaded with natural materials that increase habitat and provide a more fish-friendly passage. © Steve Herrington/TNC

Dunn Ranch Grassbank

Standing in the sea of tallgrass, Dunn Ranch Prairie can feel endless. Waves of wildflowers go on and on, choruses of migrating birds fill the air and fascinations range from bison to towering dark-earth anthills. A lot of life flows through Dunn’s 3,258 acres, but The Nature Conservancy’s Kent Wamsley notes that it’s “a drop in the bucket” when placed in the context of its place within the 160,000 acres of the Grand Rivers Grasslands of Missouri and Iowa.

The grassbank is TNC’s first in the central United States. It is a way to extend Dunn’s ecological impact—and help out our neighbors. A three-year agreement allows two local ranchers to graze cattle for a few months a year on two specific pastures on Dunn in a unit that totals 400 acres.

In return, those ranchers choose and implement sustainable grazing practices, such as removing fescue and planting native grasses, woody removal, resting certain pastures and controlled cattle access near streams on their land. The program is as much an exchange of ideas as it is a resource. TNC and its neighbors work together to figure out how to support ranchers and the land.

“We’re in grazing country,” says Wamsley, TNC’s grasslands and sustainable agriculture strategy manager in Missouri. “If we want to make a difference, we need to work beyond our property borders.”

Two men standing in a field.
Grassbank Partnership John Lueken, grassbank partner and Kent Wamsley, sustainable agriculture manager for TNC in Missouri. © Kristy Stoyer/TNC
Two men standing in a field.
Grassbank Partnership Kent Wamsley, TNC's sustainable agriculture manager in Missouri and Shannon Frank, grassbank partner monitor vegetation growth. © Kristy Stoyer/TNC
Grassbank Partnership John Lueken, grassbank partner and Kent Wamsley, sustainable agriculture manager for TNC in Missouri. © Kristy Stoyer/TNC
Grassbank Partnership Kent Wamsley, TNC's sustainable agriculture manager in Missouri and Shannon Frank, grassbank partner monitor vegetation growth. © Kristy Stoyer/TNC

Field and Farm Tours

Partnerships play a vital role in the success of our sustainable agriculture work at Little Creek Farm and Dunn Ranch Prairie. The Field and Farm Tour video series brings together a collection of agencies and partners to discuss programs and cost-share opportunities for landowners interested in implementing conservation practices on their own land. 

This video series is supported by a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through their Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG). 

Additional support for Little Creek Farm from the CIG includes the incorporation of exclusion fencing, alternate water sources, rotational grazing and restoration of native warm-season grass and legume forages. 

You can view the individual interviews below or skip to the playlist to watch all 8 videos.

Video Tours

We've compiled video interviews with state and federal agencies and local ranching partners to provide information about conservation planning and implementation practices that are available to landowners through a host of partners and services. If you have questions about any of the topics you see below, please contact Kent Wamsley, TNC's grasslands and sustainable agriculture strategy manager in Missouri, at

  • Men standing in a field.

    Grassbank: Interview with John Lueken - Rolling Prairie Ranch

    Hear from John Lueken about why he chose to partner with TNC on their grassbank and the conservation practices he's incorporating on his own land. Watch the Interview

  • Men standing in a field.

    Grassbank: Interview with Shannon Frank - Frank Ranch

    Shannon Frank talks about his family's ranching operation and how he's partnering with TNC's grassbank to create more habitat and diversity on his own land. Watch the Interview

  • A man and a women standing in front of a metal corral.

    Corral System: Interview with Kendra Pryor - Corbin Steel

    Kendra Pryor with Corbin Steel stops by Little Creek Farm to take you on a tour of our new corral system. Watch the Interview

  • Two men standing in front of a herd of cattle.

    Sustainable Grazing: Interview with Ryan Cox - Cox Cattle Co.

    Hear why Ryan Cox chose to partner with TNC at Little Creek Farm and how it's benefitting the land and his cattle production. Watch the Interview

  • Two men standing by a stream.

    Healthy Streams: Interview with Jerry Wiechman - MDC

    Jerry Wiechman, fisheries specialist with the Missouri Department of Conservation explains how protecting our streams starts with protecting the land around it. Watch the Interview

  • Two men standing in a field.

    Healthy Soil: Interview with Adam Jones - MFA, Inc.

    Adam Jones from MFA, Inc. explains how soil testing can help improve practices on your land, cutting unnecessary expenses and excessive nutrient treatments. Watch the Interview

  • Three men standing in a field.

    Land Management: Interview with Kenton Smith and Garrett Pulley - USDA

    Hear about available programs from NRCS and USDA that can help offset the costs associated with implementing new conservation strategies on your land. Watch the Interview

  • Two men standing in a field.

    Healthy Streams: Interview with Chris Woodson, USFWS

    Chris Woodson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service talks about the importance of keeping our streams healthy and ways landowners can implement practices that benefit the land, wildlife and the landowner. Watch the Interview

TNC's Field and Farm Tours are based upon work supported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under number NR196424XXXXG015.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.