By Matt Reese
Experts have been talking for years now about impending and increasing regulation on agricultural nutrients in an effort to address the notorious toxic algal blooms plaguing the state’s water. As of March 7, those regulations have been proposed for Ohio.
“There are essentially two components to this. One component deals with the Ohio Department of Agriculture and a fertilizer applicator certification program,” said Larry Antosch, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation senior director of environmental policy development. “If you are applying nutrients to more than 10 acres, you need to be certified by the ODA. This would be a companion to the restricted use pesticide applicator program. There are not a lot of details in the proposed legislation. Those details will come out in the rule making process and you never know what will happen there. We have questions about clarification regarding whether that applies to manure also or just commercial fertilizer. Within three years, this certification will be established.”
The other key component of the proposed rules is with the Ohio Department of Natural
Resources and it deals with nutrient management plans and expanding authority to cover all forms of nutrients.
“ODNR is proposing to establish a two tier water classification system. One would be to identify critical resource areas of concern and another would be watersheds in distress. This would be similar to what is already in place in Grand Lake St. Marys,” he said. “The change is that there is a modification of the definition of ag pollution, in which case nutrients would be considered an ag pollutant. Right now pollutants are currently written as ‘sediment, manure or materials attached to sediment.’ By expanding that definition, it gives ODNR the authority to deal with nutrient management plans that cover all forms of nutrients and not just manure.”
As it currently stands, OFBF policy and the proposed rules do not necessarily mesh.
“The thing that we are most concerned about is how this proposal matches up with our current policies and we do have some mismatches when you start getting into certification for nutrient application,” Antosch said. “We have to look at that and we are getting input from our membership. There are also some issues when you look at the classification criteria for a critical resource or watershed in distress that seem to overlap each other.”
Ultimately, the proposed rules were not necessarily surprising, though the timeline is.
“The comment period runs through the close of business on April 5. They didn’t want to extend the comment period. Usually a 30-day comment period is the shortest that you’ll ever see a comment period. Given the breadth of the measure, we would have liked a longer period to talk to as many of our members as we could, but we have to work in the timeline we were given,” Antosch said. “The items in the proposed legislation were identified in the final report of the Directors Ag Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group issued last year, so from that standpoint there were not really any surprises. Primarily the surprise was that we had heard something was being developed, but there was no opportunity to review or find out anything. We wish we could have gotten to look at this a little earlier. We do have a short comment period but we are trying to gather as much input as we can.”
This proposed rule release is next step of the process that started back in the summer of 2011 when Governor John Kasich asked the directors ODA, Ohio EPA and ODNR to form a task force to address Ohio’s algae problems. After six months of stakeholder meetings, a report was compiled based on the discussions and was provided to the Kasich administration about a year ago.