Leaders from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Michigan Agri-Business Association (MABA) announced a major new initiative to help farmers and agribusinesses protect and improve Saginaw Bay water quality.

"Agricultural practices make a real difference in protecting and improving water quality," said Helen Taylor, state director of Michigan for TNC. "Water is critical to our way of life in Michigan, and today's announcement will help ensure a healthy water supply in the Saginaw Bay watershed for years to come."

"Michigan agriculture deeply values water quality and this innovative public-private partnership will do even more to protect critical areas like the Saginaw Bay," said Jim Byrum, president of MABA. "Boosting conservation on farms throughout the region will protect a clean water supply for communities, sustain the health of the Saginaw Bay, and demonstrate agriculture's continued leadership in protecting our environment. The engagement of the private sector in this project is exciting and brings a new dimension to conservation programs."

The Saginaw Bay watershed is the largest watershed in Michigan, comprised of 5.5 million acres across 22 counties. More than 900,000 people rely on the watershed for drinking water. About half of land in the watershed is used for agricultural production, a major regional job creator. Taylor and Byrum emphasized the unique win-win scenario provided by the new water quality initiative, which will protect and improve the water supply and provide new opportunities for farmers and agribusinesses to lead on conservation.

Under the new initiative in the Saginaw Bay, certified crop advisors will have new tools to directly assist their Saginaw Bay and Thumb area customers in accessing funding for on-farm conservation practices. The RCPP aims to enroll 25,500 acres in new agricultural land management practices in the coming five years and expects that those changes will result in keeping approximately 2,500 tons of sediment on the land and more than 17,000 pounds of phosphorus out of the water. Information on the program is available at http://nature.ly/saginawRCPP.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a key partner in the program. TNC and MABA will work with local USDA staff to provide needed information to crop advisors and prepare them to share information with customers.

Farmers will be able to sign up for conservation cost share under the program in fall 2015.

Sponsors of the new program include:

  • Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
  • Star of the West Milling Co.
  • Crop Production Services
  • Helena Chemical Co.
  • Wilbur Ellis
  • Co-op Elevator Co.
  • Michigan Sugar Co.
  • Michigan Milk Producers Association
  • The Andersons
  • Dow AgroSciences, LLC
  • POET-Caro Biorefining
  • Method Products, PBC
  • Cook Family Foundation
  • Americana Foundation
  • CISCO Seeds

Partners in the new program include:

  • Michigan State University-Institute of Water Research
  • Michigan Agricultural Commodities
  • Brown Milling
  • Delta Institute
  • Kellogg Company
  • Agri Drain Corporation
  • Ecosystem Services Exchange, Inc.
  • Mondelēz International, Inc.
  • Syngenta