Soil Health

Soil Health Initiative Background

The Soil Health Initiative began as a grassroots effort from the state’s Conservation Districts and was voted into action by the Colorado Association of Conservation Districts in 2018 and 2019. Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg made the healthy soil vision a leading strategy for achieving the agency’s mission to foster responsible stewardship of the environment and natural resources. The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) has spent more than a year engaging in a robust stakeholder process through the leadership of the Colorado Collaborative for Healthy Soils (CCHS) to gather input from agricultural groups and individual farmers and ranchers from across the state. Read the CCHS Annual Report.

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STAR Program Logo

What is the S.T.A.R. Program?

The Colorado Saving Tomorrow’s Agricultural Resources (S.T.A.R.) Program is a free and voluntary tool to educate producers, give bragging rights, and structure conversations around soil health. S.T.A.R. is a practice-based rating system that assigns points for the following soil health practices: cropping, tillage, nutrient application, and other best management practices based upon a 10-minute form that producers fill out about each field. As a result, the farmer or rancher receives a S.T.A.R. rating from 1-5 stars that help them understand how well they are doing in promoting soil health and upholding the 5 principles of soil health:

  • Soil Armor
  • Minimize Soil Disturbance
  • Plant Diversity
  • Continual Live Plant/Root
  • Livestock Integration

How does it work?

Step 1: The producer completes a field assessment form for each field for a given crop year

Step 2: Points are assigned for soil health practices

Step 3: The producer converts their total points into a S.T.A.R. Rating of 1 to 5

Step 4: CDA will verify a random sample of producer fields each year

Why should I join the S.T.A.R. program?

The primary purpose of a S.T.A.R. rating is to help producers understand where their operations stand concerning soil health and what improvements are possible going forward. S.T.A.R. also provides a new way for conservation districts to interact with local landowners and a structure to guide conversations about soil health. In the future, participating in S.T.A.R. could unlock new opportunities and revenue streams for Colorado farmers and ranchers. It will also be a part of other programs offered by the Colorado Department of Agriculture to encourage voluntary adoption of soil health practices.

Program Availability

The S.T.A.R. program was developed by the Champaign County Soil Water Conservation District in Illinois and is now available in several midwestern states. S.T.A.R. is designed to address local resource concerns and adapt to regional differences, while still maintaining comparability across states. Within Colorado, S.T.A.R. field forms have been designed by a committee of local practitioners and researchers to address the resource concern of soil health tested with producers growing small grains, corn, and sorghum in Spring 2021 and become available statewide by the end of the year. Early participants who help test S.T.A.R. materials may be eligible to receive a $50 honorarium.

Application Process

S.T.A.R. For Individual Producers
Individual Producers (S.T.A.R. + via Conservation District)
  • Producers should first find out if their local or neighboring Conservation District is taking part in the S.T.A.R. program (see district map below). If your local or neighboring district is participating, sign up through that district. Enrollment via Conservation District may qualify you for an inventive payment.
Individual Producers
  • If your Conservation District is not taking part, you can still participate as an Individual Producer but you will not receive an incentive payment at this time. Participants will receive guidance in filling out a S.T.A.R. field form and assistance collecting a soil sample for a free soil health test. Email to sign up as an Individual Producer.
S.T.A.R. + For Conservation Districts
Conservation Districts
  • Open to all conservation districts in “good standing”
  • Facilitates capacity building
  • Provides matching state funds towards the cost of these projects and activities within each district
  • Leverages the dollars provided by the producer to increase the capacity of soil health practices on the farm/ranch

S.T.A.R. + For Conservation Districts

Other Eligible Entities
Other Eligible Entities

Colorado Department of Agriculture will also select up to four other partners to administer S.T.A.R. for Colorado. Eligible entities include grower groups, non-profits, and other NGOs. These entities will receive similar funding to implement S.T.A.R. with assistance from CDA soil health specialists.

S.T.A.R. Application

Conservation District Participation

Watch Us Grow! Check back often to view current Conservation District participation around the state.

Select a Conservation District on the map to view contact information