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Photo by Erin Cole at Trupointe Cooperative.

Understanding the flood of water quality regulations in Ohio

When it rains, it pours. That pretty much describes this growing season, or lack thereof. Metaphorically, it also applies to the new regulations regarding manure and fertilizer application that became law on July 3, 2015 that now apply to Ohio farmers in the Western Lake Erie Basin that includes 24 Ohio counties. Although these fertilizer and manure protections sunset after five years, it is more likely these regulations will be expanded to include all Ohio farms in the future.

In the Western Lake Erie Basin, a person may not surface apply manure under any of the following circumstances: on snow-covered or frozen soil; when the top two inches of soil are saturated from precipitation; or when the local weather forecast for the application area contains greater than a 50% chance of precipitation exceeding a half-inch in a 24-hour period. The exceptions to these stipulations are if the manure is injected into the ground, incorporated within 24 hours of surface application, applied onto a growing crop, or in the event of an emergency, with written special permission from the chief of the division of soil and water resources.

In the Western Lake Erie Basin, a person may not surface apply fertilizer, defined as nitrogen or phosphorous, under these conditions: on snow-covered or frozen soil; when the top two inches of soil are saturated from precipitation; or in a granular form when the local weather forecast for the application area contains greater than a 50% chance of precipitation exceeding one inch in a 12-hour period. The exceptions to these stipulations are if the fertilizer is injected into the ground; incorporated within 24 hours of surface application; or applied to a growing crop.

If this law applies to your operation and it is not a CAFO, contact your local SWCD office and request information about the exemptions that are available for up to two years for “small” agricultural operations or up to one year for “medium” agricultural operations. The exemption details are still being worked out, but position your farm to qualify once the exemption is available. Time is a beautiful thing when dealing with new requirements, especially when additional manure storage may be required to comply with the new provisions. And that storage is not cheap.

This law was passed to reduce Ohio farms’ contribution to the creation of microcystis algae in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Let’s hope that the expense of meeting the requirements of the new law does not reduce the number of Ohio farms. This year has been one of the worst for many Ohio operations due to the excessive rains. Livestock and dairy farmers may need to figure out how to purchase the crop they could not produce. A dairy farmer cannot feed crop insurance. Dairy cows require corn silage, which is not sold on the Board of Trade or other exchanges.

Add to that the expense of building more manure storage. Reportedly, legislation has been introduced that would provide a tax credit to those who need more capacity for manure storage. I guess that is better than nothing, but a tax credit does not purchase the building materials or the construction cost.

Documentation will be even more important under the new law. Before hauling manure or applying fertilizer, check the National Weather Service forecast for the applicable zip code. Print out the forecast and store it with application records.

Injecting manure means completely below the soil surface. Incorporating manure requires the manure to be 3 to 4 inches deep.

Investigate cover crops. This seems to be a sound way to deal with the new requirements. The local SWCD office can provide information about appropriate cover crops for your operation.

Keep in mind these are additional regulations. All other regulations regarding manure and fertilizer application still apply. Regulations are kind of like the Ohio growing season of 2015. When it rains, it pours.

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