Currently,issues related to nutrient management including animal manure management, bioenergy and water resources, watershed education and the human dimension of citizen involvement are priorities for the Heartland Initiative. 

The four-state Heartland Region is a significant source of nutrient and pesticide loading to the Lower Mississippi River Basin.  According to the 1997 Census of Agriculture, the Heartland states:

  • Include about 8 percent of the total United States land area, yet contain 22.8 percent of the nation's cropland.
  • Produce 36 percent of all corn sold for grain and feeds, 38 percent of all hogs and pigs, and 21.5 percent of all cattle in the nation.
  • Actual land in farms ranges from 65% in Missouri, to 93% in Nebraska, compared to the US average of 41% for the lower 48 states.
In 1999, 23.4 million pounds of Atrazine and 3,551 million pounds of nitrogen fertilizer were applied to corn crops in the region. Based on monitoring by the USGS, nitrate-N loading to the Mississippi River system is strongly correlated with areas of intensive row crop agriculture and livestock production in the Midwest. 

Citizen involvement is a priority because voluntary land use management decisions by individuals will be the key to controlling agricultural and other rural nonpoint source pollution in the region. The Heartland states have some of the lowest percentages of publicly-owned land in the nation:

  • In Iowa and Kansas, federal, state, county, municipal and Indian holdings together make up less than 3% of total land area.
  • In Missouri and Nebraska the totals are 7.9% and 5% respectively, compared to an average of 30% for the lower 48 states.

Private ownership makes it imperative that watershed management be community-based and locally-driven. Over 73% of operators in the Heartland region live on the farm they operate. In addition, many other citizens are also realizing an increased stake in rural water quality issues. Non-farming rural residents now constitute a significant majority of the population in rural areas. Urban consumers are becoming more aware of rural watershed impacts on their drinking water sources.