House passes nutrient management legislation

The Ohio House of Representative approved Senate Bill 150 (SB 150), a bill that requires one farmer per farm operation to be certified to apply fertilizer.

“The Ohio Soybean Association (OSA) and the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association (OCWGA) have always taken the quality of Ohio’s water very seriously,” said Brent Hostetler, OCWGA president and Madison County farmer. “Both organizations have worked together through the entire process of this bill to assure that it addresses environmental needs but does not include overly burdensome requirements for Ohio family farmers.”

“Moving forward, both organizations will continue to emphasize to legislators and agency officials the importance of practical, science-based solutions.”

Jerry Bambauer, OSA President and Auglaize County farmer, emphasized the need to fully understand this challenge before solutions can be implemented.

“No one has a clear understanding of how exactly phosphorus is moving through the soil profile, or can explain why there are algae blooms in areas that don’t have agricultural activity near them,” Bambauer said.

The bill has required a tremendous team effort from Ohio’s agricultural organizations in working with legislators to find a bill that balances the future success of farms and environmental stewardship, including the Ohio Farm Bureau.

“The legislation’s reasonable approach shows that a clean environment and profitable farming can go hand in hand,” said John C. (Jack) Fisher, executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau.

The bill has evolved over a multi-year process of drafting, writing and revising. The bill, SB 150, is the first of its kind in the nation, was passed previously by the Senate. The House passed its version, which the Senate is expected to approve. It will then go to Gov. John Kasich for his signature.

The final bill meets the policy goals set by Farm Bureau members, which stated that a fertilizer applicator certification program created by the state should include an educational component, be economically feasible and be a part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce all sources of nutrients. The law also provides farmers an option to employ an affirmative defense in lawsuits related to fertilizer application. This will be an incentive for farmers to create and use nutrient management plans.

Farm Bureau members support a provision in the bill that allows quick action against proven bad actors. And the organization supports record keeping requirements that are in the public’s interest without invading farmers’ privacy.

“We had some serious concerns about early versions of the bill,” Fisher said. “Our members were very active, very vocal. They let the state agencies and lawmakers know what tools farmers need. And they pushed to avoid unintended consequences and to assure that the law would be administered in a proper way.”

The mandatory requirements of the law will add to “an impressive list of voluntary actions” already being undertaken by farmers, Fisher said. He cited the large number of farmers who are receiving training in the 4R nutrient reduction strategy that emphasizes correct source, rate, timing and placement of fertilizer. He also pointed at farmers’ adoption of helpful practices and technologies including cover crops, variable rate applications and controlled drainage structures.

Ohio Farm Bureau also is leading the Healthy Water Ohio initiative, a coalition of agriculture, conservation, business, university and water user groups that are working to create a comprehensive strategy for the state’s water resources.

“There’s still a lot to be done in terms of meeting everyone’s expectations regarding Ohio’s water, but this new law will help” Fisher said. “Farmers are committed to accepting responsibility and acting responsibly.”

In addition, the Ohio Soybean Council, the Ohio Corn Marketing Program, the Ohio Small Grains Marketing Program, and many others are supporting a $2 million research project with more than $1 million coming from Ohio farmers and other agricultural companies, that will measure edge-of-field phosphorus runoff and will show how phosphorus is used in agriculture, how it leaves farm fields and how much of it is actually entering Ohio’s waterways.

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