Ohio Farm Bureau’s board of trustees voted during a special meeting to commit significant resources to address agriculture’s role in Ohio’s water quality challenges. They placed special emphasis on the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB).
A component of the plan includes two aggressive goals: Farm Bureau will help all qualifying farmers in the Western Lake Erie Basin obtain required fertilizer certification by Earth Day 2015. This April 22 target date would bring farmers into regulatory compliance a full 29 months ahead of the state required deadline.
Further, Farm Bureau will help farmers in the watershed create nutrient management plans, which detail responsible fertilizer use, by Earth Day 2016. These plans exceed state legal requirements.
With thousands of farms in the WLEB, reaching these aggressive goals will require a high degree of cooperation and collaboration with farmers. Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences are providing regulatory and educational oversight to the fertilizer certification program.
Another significant Farm Bureau commitment is to hire a second staff member to specialize in water quality and nutrient management. Fifteen years ago, Ohio Farm Bureau set a national precedent by hiring a doctorate level expert to work with farmers on these issues. The new staff member will expand OFBF’s outreach and programming efforts.
Other Farm Bureau action steps announced in the plan include:
- Partnering with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and various state agencies to establish a network of demonstration farms, which will assist in farmer training and show the public how viable farming and resource protection go hand in hand,
- Working to gain additional funding for on-farm research projects and dissemination of the research results;
- Securing funding for farm conservation programs;
- Seeking resources for septic and rural water infrastructure improvements;
- Partnering to promote public drinking water system improvements;
- Supporting county Farm Bureau activities centered on local water issues.
Farm Bureau will continue to share information with public officials regarding potential legislative and regulatory actions, and the organization will ramp up communications efforts to encourage a dialogue between farmers and Ohio citizens. OFBF also will increase its commitment to Healthy Water Ohio, a broad coalition of conservation, business, university, water suppliers, tourism, public health and farm interests who are developing a long-range strategy to address the state’s water resources.
While the emphasis is on watersheds such as Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys, Farm Bureau is engaging on a statewide basis and will work closely with industry partners, Gov. John Kasich, legislators, other farm organizations, conservation organizations and various stakeholder groups as well.
Farm Bureau’s commitment is an unprecedented private-sector investment in improving the state’s water. The $1 million will complement recent state and federal government funding plans. OFBF’s programming is primarily paid for by membership dues. The organization’s 206,000 members include approximately 80 percent of Ohio’s family farmers.
“Preserving Ohio’s water quality is a serious issue and these are serious responses,” said Ohio Farm Bureau Executive Vice President John C. (Jack) Fisher. Fisher encouraged other parties to join with Farm Bureau members to find solutions.
“We know there are municipal overflow issues, residential and commercial runoff, treatment problems and other infrastructure issues, invasive species and weather events and a long list of challenges,” Fisher said. “There are few quick fixes, no inexpensive answers. But we have to start now. We have to find solutions that protect our water, preserve our ability to grow food and help our state’s businesses and communities. Farmers are willing to do their fair share and Farm Bureau is committed to that effort.”
Editor’s note: The Agricultural Fertilizer Applicator Certification Training Program has already begun. The program is a result of Senate Bill 150. Training sessions are scheduled for Sept. 25 and 26 in northwest Ohio. More sessions will be scheduled statewide soon.