NRCS-MI State Newsletter

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USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

NRCS-Michigan Conservation Notes Newsletter  -  March/April 2023

State Conservationist's Message

NRCS Michigan State Conservationist Garry Lee

As the month when we celebrate Earth Day ends, NRCS employees along with our partners and customers can take pride in making a positive impact on our environment. At NRCS we’re celebrating sustainable agriculture as a crucial investment in our planet. NRCS-Michigan is part of the solution, and with nearly $3 billion in USDA funding nationwide, we’re making climate-smart agriculture a reality.

Producers like Gary Shepherd, a farmer in Presque Isle County, are utilizing Climate Smart Agriculture to make investments that will benefit future generations. Shepherd has planted over 2,000 maple trees on his land even though he will never utilize these trees for his maple syrup operation.

Other Climate Smart conservation practices offer more immediate economic benefits for producers. Conservation tillage for example offers immediate benefits in reducing fuel costs along with wear and tear on equipment. Other economic benefits from conservation tillage and cover crops may not be immediate, but will occur over time. These benefits include improved soil quality resulting in less need for expensive fertilizers. The conservation benefits from these practices however are immediate, reducing soil erosion and improving water quality.

Bonz Beach Farms

Maples trees connected to plastic lines for collecting sap.

Gary Shepherd was looking forward to retiring on Black Lake and doing nothing but hunting and fishing and “goofing off” until a childhood interest got out of hand.

About 11 years ago Shepherd noticed a property for sale near Black Lake that included a barn he could use for storage. After purchasing the land, he determined the abandoned farm property needed to pay for itself so he began clearing fencelines. 

District Conservationist Boyd Byelich with a maple tree planted through the USDA Climate Smart Initiative.

The sap flowing from the maples limbs he removed revived a childhood interest he had in making maple syrup.

He started his new hobby by tapping about 60 trees on his property, this year he tapped 4,200. Shepherd boiled sap 24 times during March and April and produced 1,734 gallons of syrup from an estimated 100,000 gallons of sap. The sugar content was lower than usual in 2023, said Shepherd. His production makes him about a 

Gary Shepherd, owner of Bonz Beach Farms in Presque Isle County, in one of his farm's two high tunnels.

medium-sized producer compared to other operations in the area, he said.

Like his maple syrup “hobby,” Shepherd started a vegetable garden to grow his own food and now grows vegetables in two high tunnels as well as on a large plot protected by deer fencing. He sells most of his produce at a farmstand on the property and at two area farmers’ markets. Shepherd began working with NRCS from the beginning.

Shepherd started by utilizing the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help pay for a forest management plan for the property. This led to additional conservation practices through EQIP including 19 acres of forest stand improvement along with tree and shrub planting and site preparation. Later he utilized EQIP for two seasonal high tunnels. He has planted about 2,300 maple trees on his property through EQIP, most recently with funding provided through the Climate Smart Initiative.

The maple trees were planted in rows and will be much easier for someone to tap compared to the trees he is currently tapping, “for somebody not me,” Shepherd added. Shepherd is 66 years old and it will take about 20 years before the trees can be tapped. Whether they are tapped some day or not, the trees will have environmental benefits including absorbing carbon and providing wildlife habitat. The area was once predominantly covered with maples, said Shepherd. There was once a factory in Onaway that made automobile steering wheels using area maples and other hardwoods.

Shepherd plans to be in the maple syrup business for the foreseeable future, noting that his two employees are older than he is. He’ll also enjoy seeing the maple trees he planted as 8-inch sapling outgrow their protective tubes while absorbing carbon and maybe someday providing syrup for someone’s pancakes.

Field Season Kicks off for HEL/WC Staff

The NRCS-Michigan Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Compliance program staff at the Rose Lake Plant Materials Center.

The Highly Erodible Land/Wetland Compliance Program (HELWC) staff met on April 20 for their field season kick‐off meeting at the Plant Materials Center in Bath, Michigan. This annual meeting focuses on review of workload and sharing of field methodology best practices. Michigan’s program is among the highest number of HELWC actions in the nation. HEL and Wetland Compliance is a requirement for producers to maintain eligibility for Farm Bill Programs.

Project to Link Beginning Farmers with Land

Michigan Farm Link Project

Washtenaw County Conservation District

Older farmers are leaving the industry faster than young farmers are coming in – at a rate of 4 to 1– and while some older farmers have heirs, many do not. The good news is many first-generation farmers want to step into those shoes, but most are not from farming backgrounds and struggle to find land.

Enter, a platform where Michigan growers leaving the industry can post their land where new farmers in need of acreage can find it. The program was founded by Ottawa County in 2020 with funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. As the third largest agricultural economy in the state, with the fastest growing population, it made sense for Ottawa County to be the first hub for MIFarmLink. To help beginning farmers, the agricultural leaders and advocates who started this program wanted to focus on protecting farming’s very finite critical asset – land. 

Since launching in 2021, MIFarmLink has connected farmers from Leelanau to Washtenaw and features information about land for sale, succession planning, mentorship, and events. MIFarmLink’s next phase of growth, will take place in SE Michigan through the Washtenaw County Conservation District. 

“As home to the largest number of beginning farmers in the state and with large diversified and thriving direct markets, Washtenaw County is an ideal location to start an agricultural business, which is why it is also the perfect place to continue to build MIFarmLink,” said Megan DeLeeuw, Washtenaw County Conservation District executive director. 

To learn more about MIFarmLInk visit their website at

Share Your Plant 2023 Stories

Plant 2023

As in years past, USDA wants to showcase the planting season stories of farmers and ranchers across America. To share yours, make a post on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with photos or video and tag @FarmersGov. Be sure to include where you are and what you’re working on in your post. You can also direct message us through any of our @FarmersGov social media accounts.

Alternatively, email us at with your name or the name of your operation, your location (city/county and state), and information about what’s happening in your photos or videos.

Employee Updates

New Employees

Soil Conservationist Sierra Halstead

Sierra Halstead - Soil Conservationist, Cadillac

Last Position: Soil Conservationst, Mexico, Mo.
Home Town: West Plains, Mo.
Education: B.S. Natural Resources Science and
Management, emphasis in Forest Resources,
University of Missouri
Family: Husband Tyler; Daughter, 6; Son, 1
Hobbies & Interests: Spending time with my family outdoors, golfing, fishing, and hiking

Financial Analyst Robert Johnson Jr.

Robert Johnson Jr. -  Management Analyst, East Lansing

Last position: Federal Bureau of Prisons, Quality Assurance Manager
Hometown: Lexington, Miss.
Education: Criminal Justice Law Enforcement, Holmes Community College, Electrical and Mechanical Technology, Community College of the Air Force
Family/Pets: Wife Katie, Son Kai, Dog Hemi
Hobbies & Interests: Guitar, Racing, Valuing time.

Soil Conservation Technician Colby Owens

Colby Owens - Soil Conservation Technician, Stanton 

Last Position: Student
Hometown: Indianapolis, Ind.
Education: B.S. Natural Resources and Environmental Management - Ball State University
Family/Pets: Fiancée Sydney, Cat Marceline.
Hobbies & Interests: Foraging, hunting, reading, and racing.


Soil Conservationist Emily Schaefer

Emily Schaefer - Soil Conservationist, Owosso

Last Position: CRP Specialist, Manifest Consulting Group
Hometown: Grand Ledge
Education: B.S. in Biology from CMU (Fire up!)
Family/Pets: Husband Matthew, Two German Shepherds: Sandy and Sherman, 2 cats: (Prized Dairy Cat) Bessie and Smokey, several fish, and are expecting our first child (a girl) this July.
Hobbies & Interests: Keeping Vegetable Gardens, Cut Flower Gardens, and Native Plant Gardens. Taking my dogs to training classes. Aquarium Keeping. Collecting (and slowly killing) houseplants. Going on walks/hikes with Matthew and the dogs. Practicing Yoga.

Soil Conservationist Anna Williams

Anastasia (Anna) Williams - Soil Conservationist, Saginaw

Last Position: MAEAP Technician, Flint
Hometown: Clio
Education: B.S. Biology (unofficial Wildlife emphasis) University of Michigan—Flint:  B.A. English—Writing Specialization
Family: Husband Justin
Hobbies & Interests: Hiking, kayaking, international travel, houseplants, and pets of all kinds



Staff Updates

Pat Carr - District Conservationist, Sault Ste Marie (formerly soil conservationist, Sault Ste Marie)

Christina Nickola - Grazing Specialist, East Lansing (formerly area resource conservationist Flint)

Conservation Calendar

Upcoming Events


4 - Field Crops Virtual Breakfast: Wheat Foliar and Head Scab Management, 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., online via Zoom, for more information go to

9 - Heroes to Hives Workshop, 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., MSU Pollinator Performance Center - Lansing, for more information go to

11 - Field Crops Virtual Breakfast: Soybeans and N Applications, 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., online via Zoom, for more information go to

11 - Supporting & Protecting Pollinators at Muskegon Conservation District, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., 4735 Holton Road - Twin Lake, for more information go to

12 - Walk with a Forester, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Stearns Creek Park - Grand Haven, for more information go to

18 - Red Leg Farms Pasture Walk, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Red Leg Farms - Montrose, for more information go

25 - Field Crops Virtual Breakfast: Plant & Pest Diagnostics - Know your problems, 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., online via Zoom, for more information go to


1 - Lindgren Family Pasture Walk, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Lindgren Family Farms - Benzonia, for more information go

1 - Field Crops Virtual Breakfast: Wildlife Management, 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., online via Zoom, for more information go to

3 - Native Plant Expo & Marketplace, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds - Ann Arbor, for more information go to

8 - Field Crops Virtual Breakfast: Q & A Hot Topics, 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., online via Zoom, for more information go to

10 - MSU W.K. Kellogg Experimental Forest Field Day, 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., MSU W.K. Kellogg Experimental Forest - Augusta, for more information go to

15 - Field Crops Virtual Breakfast: White Mold management in soybean, 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., online via Zoom, for more information go to

20 - Heroes to Hives Workshop, 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Veterans Therapy Garden - Paw Paw, for more information go to

27 - 2023 Pasture Walk Series, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Bluhm's Beef Farm - Reed City, for more information and to register call 231-465-8005 or email

29 - Field Crops Virtual Breakfast: Cercospora Leaf Spot Management in Sugar Beets, 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., online via Zoom, for more information go to


6 - Field Crops Virtual Breakfast: Strategies for Efficient Irrigation Water Use, 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., online via Zoom, for more information go to

6 - Grow the Trees Not the Weeds, 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., Wahmhoff Farms - Gobles, for more information go to

11 - Heroes to Hives Workshop, 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., MSU Pollinator Performance Center - Lansing, for more information go to

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Michigan State Office
3001 Coolidge Road, Suite 250
East Lansing, MI 48823

Phone: 517-324-5270