Many farmers are exploring cover crops as  a way  to build soil and reduce nutrient runoff.

Common questions about water issues

Buckeye Farm News

Q. What would be the economic impact of not allowing phosphorus application?

A. Phosphorus is essential for the creation of DNA, cell membranes and for bone and teeth formation in humans. It is vital for food production since it is one of three nutrients (nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus) needed for plant productivity. Without these nutrients, there is no agriculture.


Q. Why are farmers being blamed so much for harmful algal bloom growth in Lake Erie and other lakes?

A. Those who are blaming farmers often cite the Ohio Phosphorus Task Force, which concluded that agriculture is a major source of phosphorus for Lake Erie.  Some experts say agriculture contributes as much as two-thirds of the phosphorus load.  Other, more balanced statements acknowledge additional sources of nutrients including municipal sewage overflows, septic system failures, wildlife and other sources.


Q. What Ohio counties are in the Western Lake Erie Basin?

A. Allen, Auglaize, Crawford, Defiance, Erie, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Huron, Lucas, Marion, Mercer, Ottawa, Paulding, Putnam, Richland, Sandusky, Seneca, Shelby, Van Wert, Williams, Wood and Wyandot.


Q. What does a “watershed in distress” mean?

A. Ohio has the authority to declare a watershed in distress, which means all livestock farms in the watershed must have a state approved nutrient management plan. These farms can’t apply manure between Dec. 15 and March 1 unless approval is given by ODNR. There are additional restrictions for applying manure on snow covered and frozen ground before and after those dates. In Ohio, Grand Lake St. Marys is the only designated watershed in distress.


Q. What is Senate Bill 150?

A. SB 150 requires anyone who applies fertilizer on more than 50 acres to be certified by Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). The certificate holder must maintain records including, but not limited to, the date, place and rate of fertilizer application, the type of fertilizer and the name of the person applying the fertilizer. Records must be maintained for three years and be available for possible audits by ODA. The bill also offers protections for farmers who do additional nutrient management plan work.


Q. Do any other states have similar legislation?

A. No. At this point, no other state requires such a certification. This unprecedented action that was supported by OFBF demonstrates agriculture’s strong support to resolve our state’s water quality challenges and to be a national leader in this area.


Q. Did Ohio Farm Bureau support Senate Bill 150?

A. Yes. OFBF has worked actively on the bill from the very beginning and continues to help with promotion and education of the bill. OFBF supports the education component and believes the 4Rs (source, rate, time and placement) of nutrient stewardship are a critical tool for nutrient management, along with other measures such as cover crops, filter strips, soil sampling and variable rate application.


Q. When does Senate Bill 150 go into effect?

A. Senate Bill 150 went into effect Aug. 21 and the rules are in the process of being finalized. Some farmers have already signed up for the first certification classes and many are already implementing most of the bill’s requirements. All certification must be completed by September 2017.  After that date, no one can apply fertilizer on more than 50 acres without certification.


Q. When do the fertilizer certification classes start?

A. The first three classes will be held in September in northwestern Ohio.


Q. How will the fertilizer certification process work?

A. There are three steps in the certification process: attend a training session, fill out an application form and pay an application fee. A person who already has a valid commercial or private pesticide applicator license may also apply for the fertilizer certification and attend a training session, but will not be required to pay the application fee.


Q. Can farmers do fertilizer certification training at the same time as their pesticide license training? 

A. Yes. The fertilizer training session will be included in the pesticide license training beginning in early 2015.


Q. How long is the fertilizer certification valid?

Q. Three years. The recertification process will be the same as the initial certification.


Q. Can farmers buy fertilizer without a certification? 

A. Yes — certification is only required for those intending to apply fertilizer on more than 50 acres.


Q. What is the cost for the fertilizer certification?

A. $30 — the same as a pesticide license. Those who already have a valid commercial or private applicator license won’t be required to pay the application fee.


Q. Does Senate Bill 150 have “teeth”?

A. Yes. The state can deny, suspend, revoke or refuse to renew a farmer’s certification. Without certification, that person can’t apply fertilizer and will have to use someone who is certified. The state can go after “bad actors” who apply fertilizer in a manner that causes a problem — most states don’t require this. Penalties also include fines.


Q. Does Senate Bill 150 have incentives for farmers to do more?

A. Yes. There are additional incentives for farmers to create and operate under nutrient management plans and have them approved by the state.


Q. How many farmers are affected by Senate Bill 150?

A. Estimates vary, but could be as high as 30,000 farmers statewide and as many as 9,000 in the Western Lake Erie Basin.


Q. Why wasn’t manure application included in Senate Bill 150?

A. Manure and its application is already regulated in Ohio, and including it in SB150 would have been duplicative and potentially confusing.


Q. How is manure regulated in Ohio?

A. For large livestock farms, manure is regulated through the federal NPDES livestock permitting program and the ODA’s Division of Livestock Environmental Permitting (DLEP). Livestock farms under DLEP jurisdiction must also operate under state issued permits to install and permits to operate.

Smaller livestock farms are regulated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and are also subject to Ohio’s ag pollution abatement laws. These laws include the ability to mandate a farm to operate under an operation and management plan approved by ODNR’s chief of the division of soil and water conservation if there is a violation or the farm could be referred to DLEP to be permitted and regulated under its authority.


Q. How is manure application on frozen and snow covered ground regulated?

A. Both state and federal permitted facilities regulated by ODA are prohibited from applying manure on frozen or snow covered ground unless an emergency exists. Permission is rarely granted but if it is, there are numerous restrictions.

All other farms are recommended to follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service application standards. If there is a discharge, the applicator is subject to state and possibly federal enforcement measures.


Q. Do farmers who take manure from permitted livestock farms need to abide by the best management practices and state law regulating the manure?

A. Yes. Anyone who applies manure from a permitted facility and causes a problem is subject to state and possibly federal enforcement. Also, if manure from a permitted livestock farm is taken from its facility and not applied according to best management practices, then ODA can prohibit the permitted farm from allowing its manure to go to that farmer.