How we work

The mission of the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk is to enhance the quantity, quality and impact of journalism on agriculture, water and related issues throughout the basin.

Why cover agriculture and water?

The Mississippi River Basin spans nearly half of the continental United States. Millions of residents rely on the river system for drinking water, commerce and recreation.

More than 90% of America’s agricultural exports are grown in the Mississippi River Basin, including more than three-quarters of the world’s exports in feed grains, and most of the country’s livestock. More than 70% of nitrate pollution in the Mississippi River comes from agriculture, which harms human health and aquatic life and contributes to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

As the impacts of climate change become more severe, residents can expect more extreme weather, including flooding. See our coverage of these and other pressing issues in the basin at our stories page.

By making resources available on this beat, we support more complete coverage of these critical topics. As our reporters build deeper knowledge, they tap into a network of newsrooms, experts, and support that will help them tell more equitable, impactful and interconnected stories.

How do we maintain editorial independence?

The Ag & Water Desk and its collaborators operate with editorial independence, both from funders and from the University of Missouri or any other parent entity.

Editorial decision-making is in the complete control of the directors of the Desk and journalists and editors at the partner newsrooms. In the event that our coverage or sources included in a story present a potential conflict of interest because of financial support, that relationship is disclosed in our coverage. We abide by the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics

Our editorial process

How we select stories: Ag & Water Desk stories reflect agricultural and environmental issues in the greater Mississippi River basin and help our audiences understand the region as a cohesive community. We cover topics such as agricultural runoff, climate change-driven droughts and flooding, the marginalization of LGBTQ farmers and much more. We may cover breaking news or produce in-depth features and investigations. Send story ideas to We are not, at this time, accepting freelance pitches.

Who reports our stories: Our stories are generally reported by our Report for America corps members in our partner newsrooms. Other journalists – including our expert journalist advisors as well as University of Missouri students – occasionally contribute stories as well. Additionally, our distribution network shares local stories that are written and edited by our news outlet partners with little to no Desk involvement. All of our stories are available for news outlets to publish and repurpose for free with a required credit. News outlets may add their own local reporting to our stories.

How we edit stories: Ag & Water Desk stories are edited by our Editorial Director. Reporters may pitch story ideas or receive assignments individually and in collaboration with each other. The Editorial Director works closely with Desk reporters’ local editors to develop reporting plans, edit the stories, and coordinate fact-checking and publication. Once our stories have been distributed to news outlets for publication, those outlets’ editors may alter our stories further to suit local audiences’ needs.

How we fact-check our stories: Each Ag & Water Desk story goes through a rigorous fact-checking process. Inspired by the process used by our partners at Wisconsin Watch, our reporters and editors independently verify every fact in every story after it has been written. We identify each fact and compile primary documents to confirm its accuracy. In the instance of any error, corrections are published via our distribution network. We welcome feedback at