SAGINAW, MICHIGAN, US — Star of the West Milling Co. and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) earlier this month unveiled an innovative, sustainably-grown wheat incentive program for farmers in the Saginaw Valley in Michigan.

The new program will enroll up to 15 wheat farmers who are interested in taking “demonstrable strides” toward improving the sustainability of their farms, Star of the West and TNC said. Specifically, the initiative is focused on improving soil health and resilience, biodiversity and reducing off site impacts from farmland located within the Saginaw Bay watershed.

The program will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis beginning this year and ending in 2024.

“We consider sustainability in everything we do at Star of the West, and we are thrilled to kick off this pilot program in partnership with The Nature Conservancy to help encourage more growers to establish sustainable practices that protect the land and water,” said Lisa Woodke, sustainability director for Star of the West Milling Co. “We expect spots to fill up fast, so I encourage growers who want to take part to contact us soon so they can take advantage of this new program.”

Woodke joined Star of the West in 2019 as sustainability director and earlier this year was recognized by the Michigan AgriBusiness Association and TNC with the 2021 Conservation Excellence AgriBusiness Award. The award recognizes individuals for outstanding achievements in conservation. During her two-plus years with the company she has led several projects, including the installation of solar panels at the company’s Richville, Michigan, US, location, the addition of a pollinator strip at the company’s Emmett, Michigan, US, location, the launch of Airly carbon crackers and the Frankenmuth goat riverbank project.

As part of the new program, TNC will collaborate with Star of the West agronomists on farmer enrollments, farm evaluations and verification of in-field practices. Once the recommended sustainability criteria are implemented and verified, participating growers will be eligible to receive nature-based bonuses at Star of the West when they sell their wheat, the groups said.

The program has the potential to create a market for a certified “sustainably-raised” wheat crop, according to TNC and Star of the West.

“This streamlined program will pave the way for wheat farmers in the Saginaw Bay watershed to implement tried-and-true, in-field practices to enhance sustainability, improve soil health and protect drinking water for nearly one million people,” said Ben Wickerham, Saginaw Bay project manager for TNC. “Saginaw Valley growers are critical to Michigan’s economy and overall agricultural diversity, which is why we are excited to partner with local grain processor Star of the West on this unique ‘point-of sale’ incentive program.”