With the release of the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative this summer, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) is increasing its education efforts on water quality as well as contributing financially to research on the issue.
Last month the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency released a plan to decrease the impact of agricultural nutrients entering waterways, which have led to algal blooms. The plan was released after the three agencies received input from OFBF and about 150 other farmer and agriculture-related professionals. The effort is concentrated in five northwest counties (Defiance, Henry, Putnam, Hancock and Wood) that are near the western basin of Lake Erie but could expand throughout the state.
“The state board would like Ohio Farm Bureau to take a leadership role in addressing water nutrient issues,” said Larry Antosch, OFBF’s senior director of policy development and environmental policy, who was on the state’s research group that made recommendations to Gov. John Kasich.
The state has already adopted The Fertilizer Institute’s “4R Nutrient Stewardship” program, which encourages farmers to use the right source of fertilizer, at the right rate, right time and right place.
In mid-July, dozens of farmers in northwestern Ohio attended an OFBF meeting on water quality efforts. Speaking at the meeting were leaders from Ohio Farm Bureau, State Soil and Water Conservation District, Ohio State’s research center Stone Laboratory, the Morral Cos. and The Andersons, Inc.
“Water quality is probably one of the biggest issues we contend with in our area,” said Korre Boyer, organization director for Marion, Richland, Crawford and Morrow county Farm Bureaus. “Farmers understand that agriculture has a role in it and plays a part. We are trying to give our farmers the information they need to start making changes and be a part of the solution.”
Boyer said more farmers are implementing or looking at nutrient management plans as well as local fertilizer dealers.Ohio Farm Bureau has joined other agriculture groups in donating money for a three-year water quality research project spearheaded by Ohio State. More than $500,000 has been donated.
“We need field research to gather more information. It’s hard to identify what specific things need to happen without that research,” Antosch said.
State officials plan to study 33,500 acres in northwestern Ohio for cover crop use and fertilizer application with another 15,000 acres to be added if state officials get a grant from the U.S. EPA. The initiative is funded from the Healthy Lake Erie Fund and Division of Soil and Water funds.
The plan is to have farmers install up to 200 water control devices across 4,000 acres to help control the rate at which their field tiles drain rainwater. This would allow farmers to restrict flow and keep it in fields longer when needed. About 4,500 acres would use variable rate fertilizer application and cover crops, and another 6,000 acres would use variable rate fertilizer while also working fertilizer into the soil. The last acreage would be used for broadcast fertilizer application and working the fertilizer into the soil. State officials plan to study these different methods to determine which is best.ODA is considering adding a commercial fertilizer application certification as is done in Indiana. It would be similar to Ohio’s pesticide certification program. ODA also is looking into rule changes to track fertilizer sales.
“They are trying to get a better handle on where fertilizers are bought or used. Right now we don’t know where a lot of fertilizer is being used. It could be some areas are using a lot. If they can document usage, it will make it easier to determine if fertilizer use or management practices are the reason why water quality goes up or down,” Antosch said.ODNR also is considering expanding its authority under agricultural abatement rules to not only address sediment, manure or materials attached to sediment but also nutrients.
“ODNR is looking at getting into areas it hasn’t addressed before. The question is whether nutrient management plans will become mandatory,” Antosch said.