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Star of the West Milling, The Nature Conservancy Partner on Innovative Program

Program will incentivize wheat growers for implementing sustainability practices to improve soil quality, protect drinking water

Stalks of wheat framed against a blue sky with the sun shining brightly.
Michigan Wheat Saginaw Bay Watershed © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

Star of the West Milling Co., and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) today announced an innovative, sustainably-grown wheat incentive program for farmers in the Saginaw Valley.

The initiative is focused on improving soil health and resilience, biodiversity and reducing off site impacts from farmland located within the Saginaw Bay watershed. The program will enroll up to 15 wheat farmers annually who are interested in taking demonstrable strides toward improving the sustainability of their farms. The program, and its associated “nature-based bonus” incentives, will be available on a first come, first serve basis beginning this year and ending in 2024.

“We consider sustainability in everything we do at Star of the West, and we are thrilled to kick off this pilot program in partnership with The Nature Conservancy to help encourage more growers to establish sustainable practices that protect the land and water,” said Lisa Woodke, Sustainability Director for Star of the West Milling Co. “We expect spots to fill up fast, so I encourage growers who want to take part to contact us soon so they can take advantage of this new program.” 

We expect spots to fill up fast, so I encourage growers who want to take part to contact us soon so they can take advantage of this new program.

Sustainability Director for Star of the West Milling Co.

TNC will be working with Star of the West agronomists on farmer enrollments, farm evaluations and verification of in-field practices. Once the recommended sustainability criteria are implemented and verified, participating growers will be eligible to receive nature-based bonuses at Star of the West when they sell their wheat.

The program has the potential to create a market for a certified “sustainably-raised” wheat crop. 

“This streamlined program will pave the way for wheat farmers in the Saginaw Bay watershed to implement tried-and-true, in-field practices to enhance sustainability, improve soil health and protect drinking water for nearly one million people,” said Ben Wickerham, Saginaw Bay project manager for TNC. “Saginaw Valley growers are critical to Michigan’s economy and overall agricultural diversity, which is why we are excited to partner with local grain processor Star of the West on this unique ‘point-of sale’ incentive program.”

This streamlined program will pave the way for wheat farmers in the Saginaw Bay watershed to implement tried-and-true, in-field practices to enhance sustainability, improve soil health and protect drinking water...

Saginaw Bay Project Manager for TNC

On-farm sustainability practices will include Integrated Pest Management, cover crops, nutrient management, and reduced tillage. These practices all play a major role in increasing soil health and help provide the farm both weather resilience and ecological benefits.

In addition, getting these practices installed in the Saginaw Bay Watershed will have a positive impact on water quality and climate mitigation.

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

The watershed also 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.

Woodke and Star of the West were among the agri-businesses and farmers recognized last month as Soil Health Heroes by TNC. 

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.