Sustainable Agriculture
Sustainable Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture © Mark Godfrey/The Nature Conservancy

Stories in Missouri

Sustainable Agriculture

Conserving natural resources while feeding the world.

Agriculture is vital to Missouri’s economy – covering over two-thirds of our state’s total land acreage. With a growing global population of 9.6 billion people by 2050, our farmers, ranchers and growers will be faced with a 60% increase in food production to meet the global demand for food. And, they will need to do that using less water and fertilizer, and without expanding agriculture’s footprint.

The Nature Conservancy in Missouri works with partners to promote healthy agricultural practices with two science-driven strategies: Sustainable Grazing and 4R Nutrient Reduction.

Currently, Missouri is the leading phosphorous contributor in the Mississippi River basin, with the Grand River watershed in northwest Missouri as the highest contributor in the state. We are working with private landowners and state and federal agencies to incorporate native vegetation along stream corridors throughout Missouri’s agricultural landscapes; helping secure eroding streambanks using bioengineering techniques, and studying the benefits of native grasses to livestock operations.

Little Creek Farm

In 2017, TNC purchased a 217-acre farm adjacent to the rolling hills of Dunn Ranch Prairie. But this property is more than just a farm with a view, it serves as TNC’s first sustainable grazing demonstration farm in Missouri.

Working with private, state and federal partners, TNC is collaborating on sustainable grazing strategies at Little Creek Farm that aim to increase cattle production and the farmer’s bottom line, while also providing benefits to nature.

Currently, Little Creek Farm is being leased to a local farmer, Ryan Cox, who has farming in his blood and a desire to do what’s right by the land. 

Ryan Cox stand with his cattle on Little Creek Farm.
Little Creek Farm Ryan Cox stand with his cattle on Little Creek Farm. © Kristy Stoyer/TNC

Ryan Cox was 13 years old when he began farming. Now 27, with a full-time job, a family with young children, and active in the military, he continues to cultivate the land.

Ryan has partnered with The Nature Conservancy by leasing land at Little Creek Farm, TNC’s first sustainable

grazing demonstration farm in Missouri. Located in Hatfield, in the Grand River Grasslands, Ryan and TNC will collaborate with additional partners to put sustainable grazing practices into action and test strategies.

“It makes sense to want grazing systems in place that will extend my grazing period, make my operation more profitable, and increase the health of the land,” said Ryan.

After purchasing Little Creek Farm, TNC installed fencing to restrict the cattle from the creek. This helps to reduce streambank erosion, restores habitat, and improves the overall health of the creek, which is home to the federally endangered Topeka shiner. Alternative watering systems were added for the cattle, and soon, much of the land will be converted to native warm-season grasses.

“By incorporating warm-season grasses, you extend your grazing period,” said Ryan. “So, when it’s hot outside and your cool-season grasses slow down, you can put your cattle on your warm-season grasses. That grass is going to have more nutrients in it and your cattle are going to do better, while allowing your cool-season grasses to recover.”

Ryan hopes that by working with TNC his operation will be more profitable, and together, they will be able to show other producers the benefits of making similar changes to their farms.

We have the ability to test strategies that will not only benefit the producers’ bottom line, but will increase the health of the land and wildlife habitat.

TNC's Grasslands and Sustainable Grazing Manager

“In the end, farmers are just trying to run a business. If we can prove that simple practices will allow them to run more cattle per acre, while increasing the condition of their cattle and benefiting their land, I think that will get people interested,” said Ryan.

“We are excited to have Ryan on board with us at Little Creek Farm,” said Kent Wamsley, TNC’s grasslands and sustainable grazing strategy manager. “We have the ability to test strategies that will not only benefit the producers’ bottom line, but will increase the health of the land and wildlife habitat. For us, this is a win for nature and for sustainable grazing.”