Michigan Farmers Enhance Sustainability of 67,000 Acres of Land, Actions Improve Saginaw Bay Watershed Quality

By: Mike Milligan, Farm Manager, Milligan Farms

Farming has been an important part of my family for generations. My family farmed in Scotland before we settled in the Saginaw Bay area of Cass City, Michigan, where today I am a fourth-generation farmer managing our 4,000 acre family farm – Milligan Farms.

Because of my long family legacy in farming, I’ve learned the importance of being a good steward of the land, and I continuously seek ways to help improve the health and sustainability of the farm to support future generations.

One of the best ways I ensure a healthy farm is through the use of cover crops – noncash crops planted in the off season. Cover crops are not typically used in conventional growing, but they can make a big difference in top soil, and they protect the broader ecosystem of the species and people living in the Saginaw Bay area.

Since 2015, Kellogg has collaborated with The Nature Conservancy to help farmers like me across the state of Michigan to implement conservation and regenerative agriculture practices on 67,000 acres of farmland in the Saginaw Bay Watershed – the main drinking water source to more than 1 million people and the habitat for large populations of waterfowl, birds and more than 90 species of fish.

Through Kellogg’s support of a six-year USDA led program and a pay for performance incentive, Michigan farmers were trained on practices to help boost soil health, support biodiversity and address water quality concerns in the Saginaw Bay Watershed.  Participating farmers such as me then implemented practices such as cover cropping, no-till farming, soil nutrient management and water drainage management. Through our efforts, we prevented nearly 3,900 tons – or the equivalent of 275 dump trucks full – of soil from running off the land and into Saginaw Bay.   

Soil runoff occurs when heavy rains become too much for the soil to absorb, causing land to erode and drain into nearby streams, rivers and lakes. These stressors can cause nitrogen contamination and algal growth in waterways, which negatively impacts the habitats of native fish and wildlife populations.

In 2019, Kellogg and The Nature Conservancy enhanced its Pay for Performance incentive to enable more Michigan farmers to adopt regenerative agriculture practices and receive payments based on the predicted environmental benefits. In just one year, the program expanded an additional 4,000 acres, which is estimated to prevent another 328 tons of runoff from entering Saginaw Bay.

Partnering with Kellogg and The Nature Conservancy has helped me incorporate cover crops and other healthy soil practices on our farm. My favorite quote [by famed radio announcer Paul Harvey] about soil is, all human beings owe their ‘existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains,’ and I think that says a lot to how important soil is. It’s very easy to look past it, but, if we lose our topsoil, we can’t produce food for the rest of the world.

Keeping a healthy, sustainable system is critical. We’re all working towards a common goal here, to have a healthy long-term water supply and healthy soil to support and feed future generations.

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