Ag Policy Blog

Mississippi River Delegation Lobbies for Farm Bill Funding

A bridge across the Mississippi River at Quincy, Illinois, last summer. A group of mayors along the Mississippi River were in Washington, D.C., last week to lobby Congress for more conservation funding for farmers and more funding for river infrastructure. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

WASHINGTON -- Mayors from ten states along the Mississippi River flew to D.C. last week to lobby for funding to protect and restore one of the world's most important working rivers.

The convening was part of the annual capitol meeting of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI). The initiative, which includes 105 cities, aims to scale up existing investments and policies protecting the river corridor.

Advocates from the Mississippi River Network were also in Washington to host meetings with Senate and House members as they discussed the budgets for 2024 and 2025.

The network consists of nearly 70 local organizations and 20,000 individual members dedicated to creating a healthier basin. Members from across the basin flew to the capital to bring concerns from their communities directly to the decisionmakers, said Maisah Khan, policy director of the network.

The Mississippi River Network presented two policy priorities: increasing federal funding for farmer-led conservation and investing in better water infrastructure. This funding would largely come from the second half of the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

So far, these two acts have brought $146 billion in new investment to the Mississippi River corridor, according to the 2024 Policy Platform for MRCTI. But climate change has already taken a toll on the shipping industry, which moves 589 million tons of cargo each year.

Over the last two years, intense drought across the basin caused billions in losses along the Mississippi River, said Sarah Kapnick, chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as she spoke to the mayors at the meeting.

The mayors agree middle America needs an ambitious plan to safeguard the Mississippi River basin, which produces 92% of U.S. agricultural exports. MRCTI's 2024 Policy Platform recognizes the importance of ecosystems at the heart of this economic corridor.

Their plan incorporates federal funding over the next two years with policy recommendations designed to emphasize resilience, climate mitigation and ecosystem restoration across the basin.


Farm bill reauthorization is a critical part of the policy priorities for both the Mississippi River Network and the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative. The current farm bill was passed in 2018.

On Saturday, President Joe Biden signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2024, which includes funding for the Department of Agriculture and five other federal departments through Sept. 30. However, the farm bill is separate and has been extended through 2024 and could be up for renewal this year.

The Mississippi River Network called on elected officials to protect and increase conservation program funding in both the farm bill and the Inflation Reduction Act. Farmers play a crucial role in conservation because the fertilizers and pesticides sprayed on their fields eventually run off into the Mississippi River and contribute to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Current conservation program funding is not meeting the demands of farmers, according to data collected by the Mississippi River Network. There is huge demand for these programs and they are consistently underfunded. These conservation practices would offer a high return on investment for both farmers and downstream Mississippi River communities in the form of mitigating floods, filtering pollutants, and maintaining habitat for recreation and tourism.

"Funding farmers is the issue that everyone is in support of," said Mark "River" Peoples, an advocate and guide with the Quapaw Canoe Company who traveled to the capital with the Mississippi River Network to speak with elected officials. "But where is that money going to come from?"

Mayors along the Mississippi River are also calling on elected officials to increase funding for current conservation practices. MRCTI urges the House Committee on Agriculture to update its proposed Healthy Farms Healthy Watersheds Act of 2023 to include the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The act would strengthen nutrient runoff management programs, which can reduce pollutants that contribute to the dead zone.

The mayors of MRCTI also encouraged Congress to increase funding for the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which uses farm bill money for agricultural conservation programs -- about $50 million. According to MRCTI, since 2005, the corridor spanning the 10 mainstem basin states has sustained over $246 billion in losses from droughts, floods, extreme heat and named storms.

Billion-dollar climate disasters are becoming increasingly common. In 2023 alone, the U.S. experienced 28 weather disasters where losses exceeded $1 billion. Mayors along the Mississippi River have seen the effects of these climate disasters steadily increase.

As droughts increase and last for longer periods, the mayors of MRCTI urged Congress to address gaps in drought policy and resilience.


"Five hundred and fifty-three days of low water had incredible economic implications on this nation," said Edward Belk, director of civil works for the Army Corps of Engineers.

Southern Louisiana's historic drought also caused a second year of saltwater intrusion, threatening drinking water. As salt water from the Gulf of Mexico crept up the Mississippi River, the Army Corps barged 153 million gallons of water to communities that had lost access to clean drinking water, said Belk.

"Every night, the news presented the saltwater intrusion like it was Godzilla moving slowly up the river to devour us all," said Tim Baudier, mayor of Harahan, Louisiana.

Baudier said in Harahan, a city just upriver from New Orleans, they filled city hall with so many cases of drinking water it was hard to maneuver around the space.

Belinda Constant, mayor of Gretna, Louisiana, asked Belk and other engineers how to best prepare for future saltwater intrusion. She joined other mayors of MRCTI to ask for an additional $40 million to be designated for ecosystem restoration in the lower basin.

The mayors also asked that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency invest $5 billion to find a permanent solution for saltwater intrusion in southern Louisiana. MRCTI said the funding would begin to cover the cost of converting water treatment plants to handle desalination as well as examine and implement the best option to ensure New Orleans has permanent access to fresh water.


Editor's Note: This article is a product of the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk, an independent reporting network based at the University of Missouri in partnership with Report for America, funded by the Walton Family Foundation.

DTN/Progressive Farmer serves as a newsroom partner for the Ag & Water Desk. DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton serves as an expert journalist to help support the reporters and editors who collaborate on the project. To learn more about the project, visit…


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