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Saginaw Valley Farmers Honored as Soil Health Heroes

A person stands at a podium. Next to them are four plaques on easels. Text on a screen in the background reads Conservation Impact Award.
Soil Health Awards Ben Wickerham presents at the 2021 Soil Health Hero Awards. © Bekah Wuchner/TNC

In Michigan, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) shares a common goal with farmers: a thriving and resilient Saginaw Valley. On Jan. 27, at the Great Lakes Crop Summit, TNC rolled out the green carpet to honor this year’s Soil Health Heroes — four farmers and an agribusiness professional who are making a difference for agricultural conservation in the Saginaw Bay watershed.

Awardees were recognized in the following categories:

  • Impact: Pohl Dairy (Mt. Pleasant, MI) – A farm applying conservation practices with significant and sizable environmental benefits. 
  • Innovation: Don Morse, Morse Farms (Birch Run, MI) – A farmer applying new or experimental conservation practices.
  • Legacy: Nate Rupprecht, King Street Dairy (Vassar, MI) – A farmer applying conservation practices for more than seven years. 
  • Newcomer: Scott Brechtelsbauer (Reese, MI) – A farmer applying conservation practices for the first time (within three years). 
  • Agribusiness:  Lisa Woodke, Star of the West Milling Co. (Frankenmuth, MI) – An agribusiness professional who has shown exemplary support and participation in agricultural conservation efforts.  

Awardees were peer-nominated and selected by a committee of cross-cutting agricultural partners. Videos featuring each awardee are available to view at soilhealthheroes.com.

“These farms are examples of how soil health practices can support resilient, thriving farms, while still protecting local water resources,” said Ben Wickerham, Saginaw Bay Project Manager for TNC. “Healthy, stable soil is important for healthy waterways and sustainable food production, which is why TNC works with farmers to help them implement these types of practices.”

"By sharing my story, and all the trial and errors that go with it, I hope we're making it easier for others to be successful,” said Don Morse of Morse Farms. "Saving soil is just plain good for agriculture.  And if you can reduce some input costs along the way, that's also good for the bottom line".

Soil health practices — such as reduced tillage, cover crops and nutrient management — can help reduce input costs, buffer farm fields against weather extremes and protect water quality. This benefits all Michiganders, and the lakes and lands we love.

“Now more than ever, conservation and crop production have a symbiotic relationship and these awards are a great way to showcase that when we work together, we all benefit,” Wickerham said. “TNC wants to help tell the story of these farmers — of their innovations and successes — and show not only are these practices doable, but they help a farm’s bottom line, too.”

TNC wants to help tell the story of these farmers — of their innovations and successes — and show not only are these practices doable, but they help a farm’s bottom line, too.

Saginaw Bay Project Manager

About 20% of Michigan’s agricultural acres are located in the 5.5-million-acre Saginaw Bay watershed. This watershed features Michigan’s highest concentration of prime farmland, an abundance of water resources, and ideal soil and growing conditions that support a diversity of crops not seen anywhere else in the Midwest.

The watershed drains into Saginaw Bay, which provides drinking water to several major communities. It also supports a thriving recreational fishery and boating industry, attracts thousands of visitors each year and is a critical area for migratory birds and Lake Huron fisheries.

To learn more about the Soil Health Hero Awards, including stories on this year’s winners, visit soilhealthheroes.com

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.