Soil Health Program 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) spent more than two years 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.
This process identified the STAR Program as a framework for a Colorado soil health program. The Illinois STAR program was first developed by the Champaign County Soil Water Conservation District and is now available in several midwestern states. STAR is designed to address local resource concerns and adapt to regional differences, while still maintaining comparability across states. Within Colorado, the STAR Science Committee spent 10 months developing Field Assessment Forms and scoring sheets for the local resource concern of soil health and for the diversity of agriculture in Colorado. Field forms and scoring sheets are currently available for eight types of crop production and for grazing lands.
The passage of HB21-1181 “Agricultural Soil Health Program” in summer 2021 authorizes CDA to run the soil health program. The bill also sets up a State Advisory Committee to oversee the program. State stimulus funding provided through SB21-235 will fund the program in 2022. Grant funding is also provided from a section 319 grant through CDPHE, a Water Plan grant from CWCB, and a Conservation Partners Program grant from NFWF.
What is the STAR Program?
The Colorado Saving Tomorrow’s Agricultural Resources (STAR) Program is a free and voluntary tool to inspire producers, give bragging rights, and structure conversations around soil health. STAR 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 STAR 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
STAR could become a market signal to pay producers more for products grown using healthy soils practices and provide an onramp to other opportunities.
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 STAR Rating (1 to 5):
A field with practices similar to what 80% of fields of that type are doing in that region.
Stars (Above Average)
A field beginning to implement soil health principles.
A field implementing multiple soil health principles.
A field implementing several soil health principles.
A field implementing all five soil health principles.
Step 4: CDA will verify a random sample of producer fields each year
Why should I join the STAR program?
The primary purpose of a STAR rating is to help producers understand where their operations stand concerning soil health and what improvements are possible going forward. STAR 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 STAR 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.
The first 100 participants will receive a FREE soil health test!
Producers interested in participating in the STAR Program should fill out the corresponding field assessment form below. The first 100 field assessment forms received are eligible to receive a free soil health test. Scoring sheets describe how field assessments will be scored and are included for your reference. If you have any issues completing the field assessment form, please contact email@example.com.
- STAR Forms
STAR Plus - For Conservation Districts & Eligible Entities
In 2022, 17 conservation districts and 4 other eligible entities will participate in STAR Plus. These districts will receive capacity support to provide up to 7 producers with technical assistance, guidance in filling out STAR field assessment forms, and assistance collecting a soil sample for a free soil health test. Districts will distribute incentive payments to each participating producer for implementing soil health practices on a field of their choice, matched with an equal investment from the producer themselves. These conservation districts will also promote and implement STAR in their region, including in neighboring districts (with explicit permission). Matching contributions are not required to participate.
STAR Plus is open to all conservation districts in “good standing”. STAR Plus facilitates capacity building by providing matching state funds towards the cost of these projects and activities within each district. The program leverages the dollars provided by the producer to increase the capacity of soil health practices on the farm/ranch. Colorado Department of Agriculture hopes to offer this programming to more conservation districts as funding allows. Interested districts should submit an interest form.
- STAR Plus Documents & Forms
Conservation District Participation
Watch Us Grow! The map below shows conservation district participation in the STAR program and funding source.
Yellow: Pilot Program funded through a section 319 grant from CDPHE.
Red: STAR Plus funded through Conservation Partners Program and CWCB Water Plan grants.
Purple: STAR Plus funded through state stimulus funds and an NRCS Conservation Innovation grant.
Blue: Districts covered by another district.