What’s soil got to do with … rivers?

Last month, the Mississippi River Network hosted a webinar for its members and friends featuring Tim Wagner from the Izaak Walton League of America (an MRN member organization) and healthy soils policy and state legislation expert Steven Keleti. You can check out slides from Tim’s presentation and Steven’s presentation and watch the recording of the whole webinar on 1 Mississippi’s YouTube channel here.


10 Facts I Learned from Tim and Steven:

1. Healthier soils can save farmers money all while protecting our rivers from pollutants. Healthy soils can increase farm profits, reduce money spent on fertilizers, and require less water. This all translates into fewer potential pollutants entering our waterways and less excess fertilizer contributing to big environmental issues such as the Gulf Hypoxic Dead Zone.

Mississippi River Carrying Sediment Creating Algal Bloom in the Gulf of Mexico. Image shot 2007. Source: NASA/Landsat/Phil Degginger / Alamy Stock Photo

2. Sticky soil created the plow. Over two hundred years ago in 1819, farmland in Illinois cost only $1.25 per acre. The only catch was that most farming equipment (like the conventional plow) was built for the soils of the east – not the stickier soils of new frontiers like Illinois. As affordable land drew more farmers West, new tools were needed to be successful. A blacksmith in Illinois crafted a new tool, the self-polishing steel plow. This blacksmith was John Deere.


3. Technology, policies, and extreme weather all contributed to the Dust Bowl. John Deere’s new plow enabled farmers to till new land quickly and easily. A series of laws including 8 “Homestead Acts” and the New Deal encouraged 10 percent of land in the U.S. to become homesteads.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash


4. Healthy soils need roots. The Dust Bowl era taught us that what is happening below ground is just as important as what happens above ground. More often than not, we measure the productivity of land by what it produces above ground in the form of crops, but the Dust Bowl era demonstrated the importance of roots in the ground for healthy soil.

5. Beneficial microhabitats underground support plants and filter pollutants. A complex ecosystem exists below the soils surface. Many microbial and fungal microhabitats form mutually beneficial relationships with plants. These habitats not only feed plants, they also store carbon and water.



6. Healthy soils contribute to flood and drought resilience. Because of the beneficial habitats mentioned above, healthy soils are teeming with life – roots, microbes, fungi – that has the capacity to store carbon and water. In a flood situation, this means that healthy soil can filter pollutants and take-up excess flood water more quickly than degraded land. Healthy soil can also withstand the shocks of drought and reduce erosion.

Photo: Gabriel Jimenez/via Unsplash


7. Healthy soils legislation exists in many states. In fact, healthy soils legislation was on the docket or under consideration in all Upper Mississippi River basin states in 2019-2020.

8. Healthy soils legislation is most successful when it led by farmers and farm groups. Farmers are at the forefront of employing healthy soils practices, and their voices are important in conversations about policies and practices.

9. Healthy soils policy has widespread support. Healthy soils policy has bi-partisan/non-partisan support in many states, and legislation has been introduced by decision-makers and farmers representing both sides of the aisle.

10. It’s easy to get involved and learn more about legislation in your state. If you want to learn more about healthy soil legislation, you can join healthy-soils-legisla/on@googlegroups.com or check out healthysoilspolicy.org


-Maisah Khan

Policy Manager, Mississippi River Network




Can the River count on you? Become a River Citizen today!



Become a

River Citizen

Yes! The River can count on me!

I am committed to protecting the Mississippi River and will take at least three actions to care for this valuable resource. Please keep me informed about actions I can take to protect the Mississippi River as a River Citizen:

Step 1

Become a River Citizen

Yes! The river can count on me!

I am committed to protecting the Mississippi River and will take at least three actions to care for this valuable resource. Please keep me informed about actions I can take to protect the Mississippi River as a River Citizen:


Step 2

Educate Yourself

One goal for 1 Mississippi is to educate the public on the urgent problems facing the River. We are supported by the Mississippi River Network, a group of organizations that are experts in various areas concerning the River. Each section below is intended to provide some basic knowledge about these important issues and links to experts who can provide more detailed information. 

Nutrient pollution

Importance of floodplains and wetlands

Farm bill conservation programs


Step 3

Take Action

There are many ways you can take action. We have a list of 10 actions you can take now, You can volunteer and you can check our action center in order to see what bigger projects we are working on. Here we give you the information you need to call your congressman or sign onto proposals. You can also check out our events calendar to see what events are happening in your area.

10 actions you can take now!

The Action Center

Events Calendar

River Citizens are people who want to clean up and protect America's greatest River. 

Share This