Less than a year after it was implemented, the $3 million Healthy Lake Erie Fund has enabled farmers to place agricultural nutrient reduction practices on more than 35,000 acres of farmland in the Western Lake Erie Basin watershed.
“I am proud to see farmers taking advantage of resources that will protect one of Ohio’s greatest natural resources, Lake Erie,” said ODNR Director James Zehringer. “The money from the Healthy Lake Erie Fund is being used to reduce nutrients in Ohio’s waterways from agricultural sources, and many producers are realizing these practices still result in viable and even more profitable farming operations.”
The Healthy Lake Erie Fund is administered by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) in cooperation with local soil and water conservation districts through the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative. ODNR, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) established the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative based on recommendations made in the Directors’ Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group report the agencies released in 2012. The main goal of the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative is to reduce Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in the Western Lake Erie Basin by implementing and installing nutrient reduction Best Management Practices (BMPs).
The Healthy Lake Erie Fund has incentivized several agronomic practices such as cover crops, variable rate fertilizer applications, nutrient incorporation and controlled drainage structures. Farmers participating in the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative are required to conduct soil tests to determine the nutrient levels compared with the requirements for their next crop. They also must follow Tri-State Fertilizer Recommendations to determine the appropriate amount of fertilizer to apply to their fields.
More than 35,000 new acres of farmland in Henry, Wood, Putnam, Defiance and Hancock counties are currently using these new conservation practices, with more farmers expected to participate this year. In addition, some funds were allocated to soil and water conservation districts to provide technical assistance to farmers. The ODNR Division of Soil and Water Resources plans to designate some of these farmers as “ambassadors” so they can share their experiences and help expand the adoption of additional practices throughout the Western Lake Erie Basin and the rest of Ohio.
The money was secured for the Healthy Lake Erie Fund by Senator Randy Gardner. By the end of fiscal year 2013, ODNR will have spent almost $2.45 of the $3 million appropriated. The department requested in House Bill 59 that the remaining $550,000 be re-appropriated to continue this important work, focusing specifically on monitoring nutrient loads in the Maumee watershed to track effectiveness of the conservation practices.