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Real world research: Public-private partnerships aim to protect water, preserve food production

Everyone, farmers included, wants clean water and plentiful food. The challenge is to find farming methods that provide water quality benefits without unnecessarily hampering food production. Your tax dollars and membership dues are being used to reach that goal.

Ohio Farm Bureau is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to create four demonstration farms called the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network that will test innovative ways to prevent and reduce agricultural nutrient run-off. The findings will then be shared with farmers, land managers, policymakers and the public.

This NRCS-Farm Bureau project will identify real world solutions by answering two basic questions: Does this farm practice protect water? How does it affect the farmer’s ability to produce food?

Larry,Aaron,Jordan
The Farm Bureau team leading water quality work: Larry Antosch, Aaron Heilers and Jordan Hoewischer

Other contributors to the demo farm program include Ohio State University, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Ohio Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Environmental Protection Agency, local conservancy groups, other federal agencies and the farmers who will allow their farms to be turned into virtual laboratories to benefit all Ohioans.

The demonstration farms are a key component of Ohio Farm Bureau’s $1 million Water Quality Action Plan, a comprehensive initiative to help farmers proactively improve and protect water quality.

The plan also ramps up the manpower being devoted to water issues. Ohio, which was the first Farm Bureau in the nation to hire a water quality specialist 15 years ago, has added Jordan Hoewischer as director of water quality and research. In addition, Aaron Heilers will coordinate the demonstration farms project.

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Hoewischer previously was a senior research specialist for Scotts Miracle-Gro. He received a bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University and a master’s degree in natural resources and environmental science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Heilers previously served as a nutrient management technician at the Auglaize County Soil and Water Conservation District. He is an Ohio State University graduate with a degree in agriculture.

Water funding initiatives under consideration

In addition to safe drinking water, Ohioans also want aging water systems repaired, waterways protected for recreation and adequate supplies of water for businesses. A public opinion survey for Healthy Water Ohio identified these priorities and also found that six out of 10 voters say they are willing to pay to achieve these goals.

The cost to make Ohio’s needed water improvements could run into the billions of dollars. Discussions are underway on how to cover those costs.

The Healthy Water Ohio coalition has proposed the creation of a public-private Ohio Water Trust, which would be funded at $250 million annually. The proposal would have money coming from water quality trades, agriculture and business funding, water user fees, a portion of boating and fishing license fees, philanthropic contributions and other sources.

The coalition of environmental, agricultural, business and academic interests recently released its long-range strategic plan dealing with all types of water challenges.

The report also identified another potential funding source: Government bond sales, similar to the Clean Ohio Fund that addresses non-water environmental issues, could be used to finance water improvements. The Ohio General Assembly is considering both the Healthy Water Ohio plan and other similar proposals.

Story by Joe Cornely

Published in the January/February 2016 issue of Our Ohio.

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Joe Cornely 

Joe Cornely is senior director of corporate communications for Ohio Farm Bureau.