Stories in Michigan

Soil Health in Saginaw Valley

When it comes to healthy lands and waters, it all comes back to soil.

Sunrise over farm field.
Saginaw Valley Sunrise The sun rises over a sugar beet field in the Saginaw Valley. © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative

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It’s easy to think of soil as “dirt,” but soil is so much more. It is a living system, rich in micro-organisms and nutrients, that sustains everything that grows on this green earth. The type of soil and its condition dictate what plants can grow, as well as how water flows and what it carries with it through the landscape. When it comes to healthy, thriving lands and waters—everything comes back to soil. 

If you’re a farmer, you know your livelihood depends on healthy soils. But changing the way you farm can be risky and expensive, and a failed crop is hard to come back from. In Michigan’s agricultural watersheds, most notably the Saginaw Bay and western Lake Erie watersheds, The Nature Conservancy is working to encourage farmers—and make it easier—to shift to practices that restore and sustain long-term soil health and reduce harmful runoff. 

Ultimately, we all depend on clean water and fresh food. TNC believes that productive agriculture and healthy ecosystems can coexist if we address where they intersect: the soil.

Celebrating Soil Health Heroes

Each year, Michigan farms produce $13 billion worth of products, from corn to meat to dairy, and provide 22 percent of the state’s employment. With nearly half of Michigan's largest watershed—Saginaw Bay—in agricultural production, keeping soil and nutrients on the land and out of waterways is not only vital to the people and species that live here, but to our boating, fishing and tourist industries. 

We're recognizing the extraordinary achievements of Saginaw Valley farmers who work hard to protect water quality and soil health. Change is risky, but these Soil Health Heroes overcome those challenges to demonstrate a path forward for the healthy food and water systems we all depend on.

Award Categories

To be announced in Fall of 2021! Awardees are peer-nominated and selected by a committee of cross-cutting agricultural partners. Recipients will be honored at industry ag events, featured in press and media, and showcased in a professionally produced video of their farm – a lifetime keepsake. Meet our 2019 Soil Health Heroes in the videos below.

  • Farm equipment on a field and the sun rises.

    Conservation Newcomer Award

    A farmer applying conservation practices for the first time (within 3 years).

  • A person smiles at the camera in front of equipment.

    Conservation Legacy Award

    A farmer applying conservation practices for 7+ years.

  • A river runs through a field.

    Conservation Innovation Award

    A farmer applying new or experimental conservation practices.

  • Farm equipment on a field.

    Conservation Impact Award

    A farmer applying conservation practices with significant and sizable environmental benefits.

  • A person holds a plaque and smiles at the camera.

    Agribusiness Conservation Excellence Award

    An agribusiness professional who has shown exemplary support and participation in agricultural conservation efforts.

Recent Honorees

On January 13, 2021, TNC awarded its 2021 Conservation Excellence: Agribusiness award to Jacob Hall of Syngenta. 

On December 10, 2019, TNC held the second Saginaw Bay Agricultural Awards ceremony to say thank you to farmers and agribusiness professionals who have been willing to take a chance, and to honor those making an impact on soil health. More than 150 people attended to see the following individuals receive their awards.

Thank you to our sponsors for making this event possible: GreenStone Farm Credit Services, Syngenta, Agri Drain Corporation, Blue Water Conservation District, The Andersons, DTE Foundation, Carhartt, Nutrien Ag Solutions, Midland Brewing Company, Saginaw Conservation District, Cook Family Foundation, Michigan Sugar Company, Star of the West, Envirothon, and Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

A person smiles at the camera.
Nick Weisenberg, Soil Health Newcomer Award Winner 2019 Saginaw Bay Agricultural Conservation Awards © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

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.” said Nick Weisenberg, award winner in the Newcomer category.

Being able to work with groups like the USDA or TNC makes a difference.

Farmer Resources

We know that altering your farm’s operational management practices, equipment or fertility regime can be a daunting and uncertain challenge. Finite resources such as time, input costs and technical assistance can make changes difficult, especially when the speed of farming calls for quick decision-making. 

TNC’s Soil Health & Nutrient program connects farmers with the latest research, technical resources, peer networks, program offerings and even direct technical assistance at times—all to support farmers in this decision-making process.

Group of farmers gather together.
Thumb Area FLWG
Meetings held within Huron County and surrounding areas in the Northern Thumb
Group of farmers gather together.
South Saginaw FLWG
Meetings held within the Southern Saginaw and Northern Shiawassee County area.
Group of farmers gather together.
Includes portions of Bay county and Northern Saginaw County (East of Saginaw River).

Farmer-Led Watershed Groups A farmer-led watershed group or FLWG is a grassroots gathering of local farmers and land managers from the same general area. Click on the dots to learn about the FLWGs in Michigan's Saginaw Valley region.

Peer Networks

One great first step? Plug in to a local farmer-led watershed group (FLWG) in Michigan’s Saginaw Valley!

An FLWG is a grassroots gathering of local farmers and land managers from the same general area—usually a watershed. These self-governed groups are led by farmers and driven by members (your neighbors)! They are independent from any particular organization or agency. The primary focus of FLWGs is on collaboration and addressing specific needs of the local watershed, such as water quality, rural aesthetic and other local resource concerns.

In short, FLWGs represent a movement toward community ownership over local water quality issues. They are local citizens coming together, helping one another and taking proactive steps to manage and protect their watershed!

Check out the map below to connect to the nearest FLWG in your area. Or, if no FLWG exists in your area, please consider forming your own! To get guidance and resources, email or call 810-247-9437.

Downloadable Resources

  • Farm equipment on a field and the sun rises.

    Great Lakes Watershed Management System

    A tool for evaluating, tracking, and reporting water quality and groundwater recharge improvements at watershed and field scales. Learn More

  • A river winds through a field.

    MSU-IWR Mapping Sensitive Area Tool

    Evaluate fields, generate reports, and protect sensitive areas. Learn More

  • Two people kneel in a farm field.


    A whole farm and ranch carbon and greenhouse gas accounting system. Learn More

  • A person stands in a field with farm equipment.


    Operational Tillage Information System (OpTIS), an automated system to map tillage, residue cover, winter cover, and soil health practices using remote sensing data. Learn More

  • Plants grow in a field.

    Soils Revealed

    A platform for visualizing how past and future management changes soil organic carbon stocks globally. Learn More

Get Started on Your Soil Health Journey

View our get involved section to find out how to access virtual resources on Soil Health practice standards. 

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We envision a community of people in the Saginaw Bay Watershed, working together like a well-oiled machine, to help farmers run profitable farms while also employing practices that demonstrate the best possible land stewardship.

Join us for one of our coffee convos and hear from experts in the field (watch recordings below!) or sign-up for our newsletter and “get the scoop” on soil health and where to find us next. Read our latest Soil Health Newsletter.

Previous Soil Health Coffee Convos

Missed previous Saginaw Bay Soil Health Coffee Conversations? Click on the tiles to access the recordings.

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