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Farm community taking aggressive action to protect Ohio’s lakes, waterways

Today’s report and summary from Ohio Sea Grant states the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its research partners predict western Lake Erie will experience a significant harmful algal bloom this summer, though not as large as the record bloom in 2015.

This report is indicative of the complexity of the problem. This spring and summer’s heavy downpours have made preventing nutrient runoff even more challenging.

Ohio’s farm community continues to take aggressive action to protect Lake Erie and all of Ohio’s waterways from nutrient runoff that contributes to harmful algal blooms. The agricultural community has made great progress since the Lake Erie crisis in 2014, but more work remains to be done.

“Ohio farmers take this challenge seriously and we’re working to find solutions,” said Adam Sharp, Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president. “Ohio Farm Bureau and other agriculture organizations have devoted millions of dollars to fund research, promote best practices and help farmers comply with new nutrient management laws. We’re committed to this work long-term. We need to continue to advance the shared goal of producing food and protecting water.”

The agricultural community is committed to addressing water quality issues through numerous combined and individual measures. Individually, farmers have invested tens of millions of dollars of their own money in establishing voluntary conservation practices on their farms. Ohio Farm Bureau’s Water Quality Action Plan in 2014 set the stage for a long-term commitment to addressing the state’s water quality challenges. To date, Ohio Farm Bureau has invested more than $2.3 million of member funds for the project, which requires unprecedented cooperation and collaboration among farmers, universities and federal, state and local agencies:

  • A centerpiece of Ohio Farm Bureau’s Water Quality Action Plan is the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network. Located in the Western Lake Erie Basin, three farms are showcasing new and existing on-farm conservation practices that help improve water quality by keeping nutrients on the ground and out of waterways. Ohio Farm Bureau and the U.S. Department of Natural Resources Conservation Service are partners on the five-year, $1 million project.
  • Ohio Farm Bureau is helping to fund on-farm research being done by researchers at Ohio State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and other groups.
  • Ohio farmers in the 22-county Western Lake Erie Basin have been developing Nutrient Management Plans with the help of four Ohio State University Extension employees. Ohio Farm Bureau provided funding for the hiring of the plan writers who are helping farmers identify ways to reduce nutrient and sediment loss as well as learn how to use fertilizer in the most efficient manner. These plans exceed state legal requirements.

In 2015, Ohio Farm Bureau started providing funding for projects identified by volunteers that could help improve water quality in their communities. In the first two rounds of funding, 27 county Farm Bureaus partnered with 117 groups on 31 high-caliber programs ranging from a nutrient management mobile app to educational workshops to the purchase of a no-till drill for planting cover crops. (See examples) Another project funded improvements to the Ohio Nutrient Management Record Keeper (ONMRK) app, which helps farmers comply with state laws by recording their fertilizer or manure application as well as the current weather conditions and forecast for the next 24 hours. In all, Ohio Farm Bureau has awarded $350,000 to county Farm Bureaus and garnered more than $550,000 in matching funds from outside groups. That number is expected to rise to over $1 million in total investment when the newest round of county water quality projects are announced later this year. Ohio Farm Bureau has committed $150,000 for new county projects.

In addition to voluntary measures, farmers and Farm Bureau have recognized the need to incorporate known best practices into law and create a stronger regulatory framework around nutrient use.

  • Ohio Farm Bureau supported Senate Bill 150, an Ohio law that requires farmers who apply fertilizer on more than 50 acres for agricultural production must be certified by Sept. 30, 2017. Over the past three years, Ohio Farm Bureau has been actively promoting this fertilizer application certification, which is designed to reduce nutrient runoff. Ohio Farm Bureau also provided funding for the classes in counties that did not have OSU Extension educators so training would be available in almost all of Ohio’s counties.
  • Ohio Farm Bureau also supported a 2015 law that put restrictions in place on nutrient applications in the Western Lake Erie Basin during certain times of the year that are more prone to nutrient losses.

All of this work is achieving results. A recent study found agricultural soil phosphorus levels held steady or trended downward in at least 80 percent of Ohio counties from 1993 through 2015. The study by Ohio State University researchers looked at more than 2 million phosphorus soil tests. In 2015 the median soil phosphorus level was within the appropriate agronomic range in 87 of 88 Ohio counties.  

Learn more by reading Ohio Farm Bureau’s 2017 Water Quality Status Report.

 

Larry Antosch is senior director, program innovation and environmental policy at Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. He holds a PhD in water resources from Iowa State University.