Farmers and Ag Leaders Honored by The Nature Conservancy

New Awards Event Celebrates Excellence in Agriculture for Conservation

Bay City, Michigan | March 01, 2018

Forget the red carpet rolling out for actors in Hollywood this weekend. The real stars walked the green carpet tonight to receive awards from The Nature Conservancy to 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 140 people attended, including leaders of The Nature Conservancy and agricultural industry. Winners were given the following awards:

  • Conservation Innovation Award: Dan Ritter (Elkton)
  • Conservation Newcomer Award: Chad Dzurka, (Pinconning)
  • Conservation Veteran Award: Wayne “Lee” Wackerle, Jr. (Pinconning)
  • Conservation Excellence Award-Agribusiness: JJ Metz, Crop Production Services
  • Conservation Excellence Award-Practitioner: Huron County Field Office
  • Conservation Excellence Award-Contributor: Paul Sweeney, Ecosystem Services Exchange
  • Conservation Impact Award: Steve Tait (Caseville)

For the last three years, the Conservancy has partnered with agribusinesses, governments, corporations, non-profits and conservation agencies to test innovative agricultural conservation programs in critical areas of the Saginaw Bay Watershed—reducing more than 2,500 tons of sediment runoff in Michigan’s largest watershed. These practices help farmers retain healthy and productive soil while providing ecological and economic benefits to the community.

A good example of one person making a big difference is Steve Tait of Tait Farms, winner of the Conservation Impact Award. Tait implemented cover crops and no-till practices on nearly 1,700 acres, saving 242 tons of sediment from entering local waterways, the highest total sediment reduction in the Saginaw Bay Watershed.

“I’ve always been interested in trying new things, working to improve what we do and how we do it, making things run more efficiently,” Tait said. “This is just something I do, so I’m not used to getting an award for it, but it’s nice.”

Like Tait, Chad Dzurka said he was surprised to hear good news from the Conservancy, a conservation organization that was unfamiliar to him and his family.

“I had never heard of The Nature Conservancy before, but once I looked into who they are and what they’re trying to accomplish, I was very humbled and honored when they told me we won this,” said Dzurka, who works with his brothers Nate and Jacob at Dzurka Bros. LCC family farming operation in Pinconning. “It’s not something I was expecting, but it’s kind of cool to be recognized for working hard and doing a good job.”

Dzurka and his brother recently began introducing new practices, such as cover crops and reduced tillage, that help reduce nutrients from running into local waterways, and ultimately into Saginaw Bay. Dzurka said they are seeing some early success with good yields and decreased outputs and are considering updating technology and working towards becoming certified as an environmentally friendly farm. 

“We’re excited to recognize people like Chad and his brothers, along with the other award winners, for all they’re doing for their community, their water and ultimately the planet,” said Mary Fales, The Nature Conservancy’s Saginaw Bay program director. “This is a great example of how we can work together collaboratively for people and nature.”

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 the Conservancy’s work in Saginaw Bay, contact Mary Fales at 517-316-2278 or Fales said she and the Conservancy could not host this event without the generous support of its sponsors: Cook Family Foundation, Midland Brewing Company, The Andersons, Inc., Michigan Sugar Company, and Ecosystem Services Exchange.

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 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Melissa Molenda
The Nature Conservancy
(517) 230-0818


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