Ohio agriculture responds to proposed water quality rules

By Matt Reese

The comment period closed earlier this month for the proposed regulations for nutrient management in an effort to improve water quality in Ohio. Of course, agriculture is a key stakeholder in this debate and there were a wide variety of comments from Ohio’s agricultural organizations. One common theme running through the responses to this was that the lack of specifics in the proposed rules made it challenging to offer any specific comments.

These proposed rules are the next step of the process that started back in the summer of 2011 when Governor John Kasich asked the directors Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Natural Resources 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.

In short, the proposed rules establish a fertilizer applicator certification program that would be overseen by the Ohio Department of Agriculture for those applying nutrients to more than 10 acres. The other key component of the proposed rules deals with nutrient management plans and expanding Ohio Department of Natural Resources authority to cover all forms of nutrients, including commercial fertilizer.

Here are some responses from Ohio agriculture to the proposed rule.

 

Jerry Bambauer, Ohio Soybean Association (OSA) president and Auglaize County soybean farmer: Ohio soybean farmers share the concerns about water quality and are showing their commitment to this issue everyday by using the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship and other best management practices on their farms. This is a vital story that needs to be told and OSA will continue to be fully engaged with legislators, regulators, researchers and our fellow agricultural organizations to ensure science-based solutions for every watershed, every farm and every field. The draft legislation is only the beginning of the process with many more steps to go.”

 

Lauren Ketcham, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association:

OEFFA did not submit comments on this issue. But, generally speaking, we believe that sustainable farming practices can help to prevent erosion and reduce water runoff. Manure and phosphorus fertilizers that wash off farm fields and into waterways are the most significant sources of the “blooms” of toxic algae. When these nutrients escape where they are meant to be (farm fields) and end up in the water, they provide an ideal medium for the growth of toxic algae.

Organic and sustainable growers use practices that protect soil, air, and water resources. Every crop needs phosphorus to thrive, but organic growers use natural forms of phosphorus, manure management practices, and planting patterns (such as cover crops) that reduce runoff from fields, protecting our precious water resources.

In addition to providing educational workshops, organic certification services, and direct assistance and support to organic farmers and help all farmers reduce their use of chemicals, OEFFA also works to advocate for state and federal policy that helps provide support for sustainable agriculture.

 

Tadd Nicholson, executive director of the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association:

We appreciate the continued leadership of the respective Directors on this important topic as water quality is everyone’s business. Certainly any new regulations on nutrient management have the potential to affect every corn and wheat farmer in Ohio as nutrients are a vital part of any grain operation.

We also recognize that many details are unclear and questions remain on any potential new regulations as the Directors continue to solicit feedback and input from all the interested parties. This is very much a work in progress and we look forward to coming together with all parties to find common ground and make sure any proposals are clear, effective and won’t unduly burden Ohio’s number-one industry.

In the meantime, we encourage all farmers applying nutrients to have a nutrient management plan and follow the 4-R strategy by using the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place.

 

Larry Antosch, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation senior director of environmental policy development: As you will be able to tell, the majority of our comments center around the lack of clarity presented in the draft proposed legislation.  It is hard to conduct a review if details are not provided.

Here are some excerpts from comments general recommendations submitted by OFBF on this issue:

An abundant supply of high quality water has been long recognized as Ohio’s greatest natural resource. Improving and protecting water quality is essential to Ohio’s future. OFBF believes that farmers have the responsibility to proactively do our part to solve the nutrient management challenge facing Ohio today. In a letter signed by twenty agricultural organizations and widely distributed to every farmer in Ohio, Ohio agriculture in a single voice committed to the promotion and adoption of the principles of 4R Nutrient Stewardship and challenged all farmers to do the same. OFBF is committed to continuing to lead the effort to develop innovative solutions to this challenge but we cannot do it alone. Municipalities, homeowners and other industries will be expected to do their share to address this issue. State, federal and industry-wide resources must be directed to research, technical assistance and outreach activities as well as monitoring and assessment of progress.

OFBF policies support the development of legislation, regulations and programs that are scientifically based, economically sound and whenever possible, delivered in a flexible and voluntary manner. We recognize that all the residents in a watershed have a role to play in addressing water quality challenges and expect everyone to do their part. We encourage all farmers to voluntarily work with their Soil and Water Conservation District and USDA personnel to develop and properly follow a nutrient management plan.

• The development of a white paper describing the proposed fertilizer applicator certification program could serve as the blueprint for the future rulemaking process and remove much of the uncertainty. Certification requirements, training, testing, continuing education requirements, length of certification, cost of certification, infrastructure needed to certify, track and administer the program should be discussed. It is imperative that if a fertilizer applicator certification program is developed in the future it must be meaningful and beneficial to the farmer.

• A white paper describing the proposed two tiered watershed classification system should be developed. The distinction between the two classifications is not clearly stated. The intent behind listing a watershed as a critical natural resource area should be to direct resources to the area so that it does not become a watershed in distress. Specific benchmarks and criteria need to be established for the listing process as well as the delisting process.

• A uniform format for an operation and nutrient management plan should be developed that will meet the needs of ODNR, SWCDs and USDA NRCS. A single plan should be sufficient to meet all program requirements.

• The Soil and Water Conservation Commission should continue to have a prominent role in the two tiered watershed classification listing procedure and in the allocation of resources to SWCDs in the two designated areas. The SWCD funding allocation formula should be modified to reflect the importance of directing programs and activities to critical natural resource areas and watersheds in distress in addition to addressing locally identified priorities.

In addition OFBF expressed specific concern with the lack of clarity of differing definitions of the term “fertilizer,” the use of unspecific language that is open to interpretation, unclear definitions of the circumstances used to designate a watershed in distress, among other things.

 

 

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