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.
What is the STAR Program?
The Colorado Saving Tomorrow’s Agricultural Resources (STAR) Program is a free and voluntary tool to educate producers, give bragging rights, and structure conversations around soil health. Created by conservation districts for conservation districts, 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
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 of 1 to 5
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 programming offered by the Colorado Department of Agriculture to encourage voluntary adoption of soil health practices.
The STAR program was developed by the Champaign County Soil Water Conservation District in Illinois 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, STAR 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 STAR materials may be eligible to receive a $50 honorarium.
- 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
- Individual Producers
Producers should find out if their local or neighboring conservation district is taking part in STAR (see district map below). If your district (or neighboring district) is participating, contact the district to sign up. If your district is not taking part, read more about STAR Lite below.
Any producer in Colorado may participate in STAR Lite. Participants will receive guidance in filling out a STAR field form and assistance collecting a soil sample for a free soil health test. Participants in STAR Lite will not receive an incentive payment at this time. Email email@example.com to sign up.
- Other Eligible Entities
Other Eligible Entities
Colorado Department of Agriculture will also select up to four other partners to administer STAR for Colorado. Eligible entities include grower groups, non-profits, and other NGOs. These entities will receive similar funding to implement STAR with assistance from CDA soil health specialists. If you are an eligible entity interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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