Aerial view of farmland around Saginaw Bay, Michigan, where TNC is working with farmers and companies to reduce runoff in the Great Lakes.
Saginaw Bay aerial farmland Aerial view of farmland around Saginaw Bay, Michigan, where TNC is working with farmers and companies to reduce runoff in the Great Lakes. © Adam Stoltman

Newsroom

The Nature Conservancy Honors Farmers and Ag Leaders

Saginaw Bay Agricultural Conservation Awards Shine Spotlight on Local Soil Health Heroes

Bay City, MI

Farmers, agriculture professionals and industry leaders were honored last night by The Nature Conservancy at their Saginaw Bay Agricultural Conservation Awards for the second year in a row.

The “Ag Awards” celebrate excellence and achievements by Saginaw Bay area farmers, agribusinesses and conservation professionals who have made significant contributions to agricultural conservation in the watershed. More than 170 people attended, including TNC leaders and agricultural industry professionals. Winners were given the following awards:

  • Conservation Excellence Award: Contributor
    Method Products, PBC, San Francisco, California for work in Huron County
  • Conservation Excellence Award: Practitioner
    Joel Leland, Saginaw Conservation District, Saginaw
  • Conservation Excellence Award: Agribusiness
    Justin Krick, Star of the West Milling Company, Frankenmuth
  • Conservation Newcomer Award
    Nick Weisenberger, Weisenberger Farms, LLC, Chesaning
  • Conservation Veteran Award
    Jason Haag, Unionville   
  • Conservation Innovation Award
    Ryan and Melissa Shaw, SKS Farm, Marlette    
  • Conservation Impact Award
    Jeffery Krohn, Krohn Acres, LLC, Owendale

TNC shares a common goal with farmers,” said Helen Taylor, TNC’s state director for Michigan. “We all want a thriving and resilient Saginaw Valley.”

Taylor noted that Michigan has a $13 billion agricultural economy, which provides 22 percent of the state’s employment. One-fifth of the acres that drive the state’s agricultural productivity are located in the Saginaw Bay Watershed, identified by TNC scientists as a priority area for the entire Great Lakes ecosystem. The 5.5-million-acre watershed features Michigan’s highest concentration of prime farmland and rich soils that allow for diverse crop rotations and higher yields than many other areas of the Midwest. In addition to agriculture, Saginaw Bay itself is vital because it provides drinking water to local communities, supports a thriving recreational fishery and boating industry, attracts thousands of visitors each year and is a critical area for migratory birds.

“The people and species who live here depend on healthy soil and clean water for their own health, habitats, jobs and recreational opportunities,” Taylor said. “It’s a place worth protecting, for nature and for people”

From 2015 to 2019, TNC’s soil health and nutrients strategy in Saginaw Bay Watershed has changed practices across 67,400 acres, resulting in:

  • 140 farms cooperating;
  • 21,600 pounds of phosphorus kept out of waterways;
  • more than 5,000 verified tons of sediment reduction; and
  • 760 million liters of groundwater replenishment.

“Being able to work with groups like the USDA or TNC makes a difference,” said Nick Weisenberg, this year’s award winner in the Newcomer category. “Being a fourth-generation farmer is important to me and we have definitely learned that a cover crop option is cheap tillage, cheaper soil management and provides benefits to keep the farm operation running for the next generation.”

The award recipients were based on nominations sent from local community members and chosen by the Awards Selection Committee, which included representatives from Michigan Association of Conservation Districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Bureau, Michigan Agri-Business Association, Michigan Department of Agricultural and Rural Development and the Delta Institute.

For about TNC's work in Saginaw Bay, contact Mary Fales at 517-316-2278 or mfales@tnc.org. Fales said the event was made possible thanks to support from: Agri Drain Corporation, The Andersons, Blue Water Conservation District, Carhartt, The CISCO Companies, Cook Family Foundation, DTE Foundation, GreenStone Farm Credit Services, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program, Michigan Sugar Company, Midland Brewing Company, Nutrien Ag Solutions, Saginaw Conservation District, Star of the West, Syngenta and Tait Farms.

See more about the awards at www.nature.org/saginawsoilhealth.

TNC will host its next event, a “Soil Health Lunch and Learn,” at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 7 at the Pere Marquette Depot in Bay City. The event is free and open to the public with advance registration. Visit nature.org/mievents for more information.

TNC 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. Learn more online at nature.org/michigan

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 79 countries and territories, 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.