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Farmers, allies step up efforts to protect water
By Seth Teter
As the peak season approaches for harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie, Ohio agriculture will continue to be in the public spotlight for its impact on water quality.
Seeing the long-term need to understand just what role farmers play, Terry McClure has taken the unusual step of welcoming scrutiny of his farm.
“We have to do what’s right. You stand back and say, we’d rather be part of the solution than part of the problem,” said the 5th generation farmer and former Ohio Farm Bureau president.
His farm is part of a research project that will provide new information on how the nutrient phosphorus, which feeds algal blooms, escapes farm fields and what farmers can do to prevent it.
“We know we’re using less phosphate,” McClure said. “We just need to understand what the cause of all this is.”Funded by a $1 million federal grant, which was matched by Ohio agricultural organizations, scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Ohio State University will use advanced equipment to analyze the water leaving farm fields on 29 sites across Ohio. The ultimate goal is to help farmers implement new methods that will better protect water quality while maintaining agricultural productivity.
Both of those goals are important for McClure, who sees the ultimate test of his farm’s success as whether or not he can pass it on to the next generation.
But he isn’t alone in his effort. Ohio Farm Bureau has joined an alliance of farm organizations, environmental advocates, academia, businesses and other interested parties that have begun a multi-step initiative to positively affect water quality both short-term and over an extended time frame.
While solving water quality challenges is expected to take many years, here are ways farmers have already shown they are committed to improving water quality while preserving agriculture’s economic contributions to Ohio:Farmers are using soil tests to avoid applying excessive amounts of fertilizer. One survey showed 82% compliance with Ohio State University-approved testing practices.
A pollution reduction project in the Lake Erie Basin reduced phosphorus applications by more than 180,000 pounds across 8,653 acres.
Farmer-to-farmer outreach in the Grand Lake watershed helped achieve 100% compliance with state water quality mandates.
more than 4,400 farmers attended 163 nutrient and water quality training sessions put on by Ohio State University Extension.
Nearly 300 farmers are part of a test project that has expanded use of cover crops, variable rate applications, nutrient incorporation, controlled drainage structures and best management practices.
Another study shows these types of efforts can reduce phosphorus escapes by nearly one-third.
The state’s agribusiness community is working with non-government organizations, universities and government agencies to develop a third-party certification program for commercial nutrient applicators that will encourage adoption of nutrient stewardship practices.
Farm organizations and agribusinesses contributed $1 million to match a federal grant that is funding a three-year study to measure nutrient runoff and identify preventative practices.
Agricultural representatives are engaged with the Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force, Directors’ Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group, The Ohio Nutrient Forum Visioning Workshop and many other private and government entities that are working to understand the problem and arrive at solutions.
Farmers are reviewing and providing feedback on state legislation that would improve water quality.
The farm community was a vocal advocate for funding of water quality initiatives within the new state budget.
A diverse group of 20 agricultural organizations corresponded with their members to elevate awareness of Ohio’s nutrient and water challenges and encouraged them to adopt the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program that promotes the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time with the right placement. Since then, a survey shows that 71% of Ohio farmers now recognize the significance of the issue, and they’re attending field days, seminars and training sessions to learn about the 4Rs and other environmentally-friendly practices. This same group, along with additional organizations, is planning a comprehensive, long-range project to address a variety of Ohio water issues.Cutline: Representatives of agricultural organizations learn about equipment used to test the water leaving a field tile on Terry McClure’s farm.