Webster County Soil and Water Conservation District

History of the Soil and Water Conservation Program



In the 1930s, as the Dust Bowl swept across the nation relocating an estimated 300 million tons of soil, Americans realized the devastating effects of soil erosion. Legislation began to take shape to better manage and conserve the nation’s soil. Despite these actions, Missouri was still plagued with high erosion rates.

In 1982, Missouri was losing soil at a rate of 10.9 tons per acre each year on cultivated cropland. A one-tenth-of-one-percent parks, soils and water sales tax was passed by Missouri voters in 1984 to fund state parks and soil and water conservation efforts. Prior to the passage of the sales tax, Missouri had the second highest rate of erosion in the nation. Almost two-thirds of Missouri voters renewed the tax in 1988 and 1996. In 2006, the tax passed by its highest percentage to date (70.8).

Since 1982, Missouri’s erosion rate dropped more than any other state. It is estimated that more than 148 million tons of soil have been saved since the start of the sales tax, but millions of tons of soil still wash away every year on cultivated cropland in Missouri.

The majority of the soils side of this tax has been used to assist agricultural landowners through voluntary programs that are developed by the Soil and Water Districts Commission. They are administered by the Soil and Water Conservation Program through district boards in each of the 114 counties.

The cost-share program provides financial incentives to landowners for up to 75 percent of the cost for installation of soil conservation practices that prevent or control excessive erosion. Soil and water conservation districts provide technical support with the design, implementation and maintenance of practices.

By promoting good farming techniques that help keep soil on the fields and waters clean, each soil and water conservation district is conserving the productivity of Missouri’s working lands.


The first meeting to discuss formation of a soil and water conservation district in Webster County was held in Seymour on Nov. 16, 1966. There were 12 people present. Another meeting was held at Cave Springs soon after. A county-wide meeting, with 52 people attending, was held in Marshfield on Dec. 8, 1966.  Harold Owens, Executive Secretary of the Missouri Soil and Water Districts Commission, along with Jack Dunn, Area Conservationist of the Soil Conservation Service (Natural Resources Conservation Service), explained how a district could be established.

Cecil Kenneth Davis of Marshfield was elected organizational chairman. Petitions were given to about 20 people, who agreed to secure signatures of landowners. The target date set for completion of the petitions was Feb. 15, 1967. The necessary signatures were obtained from each township by that date.  

A public hearing was granted for March 7, 1967, which Mr. Owens conducted. Discussions, both pro and con, were recorded by Herman Childress, temporary secretary. After testimony, a show of hands indicated a majority present was in favor of forming a district. About 40 were present for the hearing.

Four areas were agreed upon and then members from each area met, nominated candidates for supervisors and selected polling places. The date for the vote was set for April 1, 1967.

Area I included the townships of Jackson, Washington and Union. Fern Atteberry was elected supervisor. The vote was 71 to 3 in favor of district organization.

Area II included the townships of Grant, Ozark and Niangua. Cecil Davis was elected supervisor. The vote was 75 to 0 in favor.

Area III included High Prairie, Hazelwood and Finely townships. Herman Childress was elected supervisor. The vote was 75 to 0 in favor.

Area IV included East and West Dallas, and East and West Benton townships. Dale Short was elected supervisor. The vote was 33 to 0 in favor.

Organization of the board of supervisors was held in the County Extension Center, on May 3, 1967. Cecil Davis was elected Chairman,  Fern Atteberry, 1st Vice-Chairman, Dale Short, 2nd Vice-Chairman,  Herman Childress, Treasurer, and Claude Lewis, Secretary.