Farmers, agriculture professionals and industry leaders recently were honored by The Nature Conservancy at its second annual Saginaw Bay Agricultural Conservation Awards program.
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, Calif., for work in Huron County
Conservation Excellence Award: Practitioner. Joel Leland, Saginaw Conservation District, Saginaw, Mich.
Conservation Excellence Award: Agribusiness. Justin Krick, Star of the West Milling Co., Frankenmuth, Mich.
Conservation Newcomer Award. Nick Weisenberger, Weisenberger Farms LLC, Chesaning, Mich.
Conservation Veteran Award. Jason Haag, Unionville, Mich.
Conservation Innovation Award. Ryan and Melissa Shaw, SKS Farm, Marlette, Mich.
Conservation Impact Award. Jeffery Krohn, Krohn Acres, LLC, Owendale, Mich.
“TNC shares a common goal with farmers,” says 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% 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 2.5-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 says. “It’s a place worth protecting, for nature and for people”
From 2015 to 2019, TNC’s soil health and nutrients strategy in the 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,” says 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 the Michigan Association of Conservation Districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Agri-Business Association, Michigan Department of Agricultural and Rural Development, and the Delta Institute.
For more about TNC's work in Saginaw Bay, contact Mary Fales at 517-316-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
See more about the awards at nature.org/saginawsoilhealth.