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OFBF helps develop recommendations for improving state’s waterways
Ohio Farm Bureau helped out on a state report that makes dozens of recommendations on how to decrease the impact of agricultural nutrients entering Ohio’s streams and water resources.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency worked together on the recommendations, along with 150 farmer and agriculture-related professionals. Ohio Farm Bureau was an active participant in the process with staff members and state board members on the three working group committees. The report was submitted recently to Gov. John Kasich.
The state ordered the report to address increasing problems of algal blooms in the western basin of Lake Erie, Grand Lake St. Marys and other waterways.
“We identified the issues and made a laundry list of things to be looked at, potential changes to existing regulations and development of new programs,” said Larry Antosch, OFBF’s senior director of policy development and environmental policy, who was on the research group. The other two study areas were production and regulatory issues.
The report noted that dissolved phosphorus is “one of the primary culprits” of the algal blooms with land application of commercial fertilizer and livestock manure as a contributing source. But the report noted that the dissolved phosphorus comes from both agricultural and nonagricultural sources such as municipal waste, landscaping and storm runoff.
“It is important to note that Ohio’s agricultural industry should by no means be singled out as being the only source. The net productivity of the region’s agricultural sector must be maintained,” according to the report, which is being reviewed by Kasich’s office. His administration has not indicated which recommendations will be adopted or when.
Ohio’s corn, wheat and soybean farmers have already provided $500,000 toward a three-year water quality research project spearheaded by Ohio State University.
One recommendation that is expected to be put in place is the Fertilizer Institute’s “4R Nutrient Stewardship”, a voluntary program that encourages farmers to use the right fertilizer at the right rate, the right time and right placement, Antosch said. Another is the development of a voluntary, statewide “certified nutrient stewardship program” for farmers that recognizes farmers and retailers who are implementing the 4 Rs.
The report recommends a three-tiered statewide structure for implementing the recommendations based on the condition of a waterway. Level 1 is “watershed in distress” such as Grand Lake St. Marys; Level 2 is “critical natural resources areas” such as Western Lake Erie Watershed, and Level 3 is “statewide”, i.e. the majority of the state that is not in Levels 1 or 2.
Some of the other recommendations include:
• Coordinating research and aligning funding streams;
• Coordinating programmatic funding within OEPA and ODNR;
• Coordinating communication and outreach effort to farmers;
• Providing ODA authority to better train Ohio farmers about applying commercial fertilizer;
• Expanding the regulatory authority of ODA to collect more specific geographical data on where fertilizer sales are currently made;
• Clarifying the authority of ODNR to aggressively pursue habitual bad actors; and
• Expanding ODNR’s authority to development Nutrient Management Plans.
“It’s a complex and challenging problem, and a lot more research needs to be done to fully understand the issue, but these are strong first steps to move us closer to a healthy Lake Erie,” said James Zehringer, ODNR’s director. ODNR is in charge of coordinating an extensive education and outreach effort and developing a roadmap for implementing policy recommendations.
“Agriculture wants to do what it can to address the issue and preferably it will be consistent with Farm Bureau policy. We want to keep the approach voluntary, flexible and based on the best current research available. Our policy supports the development and implementation of nutrient management plans,” Antosch said.
The OFBF board reviewed the report and recommendations during its April meeting. The board voted to place OFBF in a leadership role in the promotion of nutrient management stewardship and to continue to engage with the three agencies as they implement the report recommendations.