Ag group awarded research grant focused on cleaner Lake Erie

As agricultural retailers sign up for a voluntary certification to help farmers improve the long-term quality of Lake Erie’s water, new funding will help share the impact of the practices the program preaches.

The Great Lakes, despite many actions of farmers in recent years, has continued to experience water quality problems tied to fertilizer runoff and nutrients leaving fields and entering bodies of water.

The new 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program started in March provides a consistent, recognized standard for agricultural retailers to adopt proven best practices in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio where surrounding waters drain into Lake Erie. The framework for the program is based upon the 4Rs, which refers to using the Right Source of Nutrients at the Right Rate and Right Time in the Right Place.

Now the certification program’s governing body, the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Council, will be able to demonstrate the impacts of 4R practices thanks to a $1.25 million research grant awarded by the 4R Research Fund.

Funds will support field research and demonstration projects measuring and documenting the economic, social and environmental impacts of 4R nutrient stewardship and help expand efforts throughout North America. Of 43 proposals submitted, the Nutrient Stewardship Council received the highest marks and most funding, said NSC Chair Carrie Vollmer-Sanders, also the Western Lake Erie Basin project director for the Nature Conservancy.

“The research covers everything from the costs to become certified as well as the water quality impacts from the fields to the watersheds to the lake level,” she said. “We’ll be looking at what changes are made because of 4R practices and certification, and we’ll be gaining a broader perspective of the public’s perception of the program.”

“Not many proposals include the scope of research entities we have working on this one project,” Vollmer-Sanders said, noting the broad support and input the NSC has had from environmental and conservation communities. “It’s a blessing to receive the funding at the same time the certification program is starting.”

As of mid-May, 51 agricultural retailers in the Lake Erie watershed had signed up to participate in the certification program, an “overwhelmingly positive response” according to Vollmer-Sanders.

“It’s a testament that the ag business community is truly being proactive on these issues. You can see they are really making some changes and are willing to put forth their own resources to do so,” she said

Those leading the research on the grant include:

Principal Investigator:

  • Kevin King — USDA-ARS Soil Drainage Research Unit, Columbus

Co-Principal Investigators:

  • Thomas Bruulsema — International Plant Nutrition Institute, Ontario, Canada
  • Remegio Confesor Jr. — Heidelberg University, Tiffin
  • Joseph DePinto — LimnoTech, Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • Laura Johnson — Heidelberg University, Tiffin
  • Gregory LaBarge — Ohio State University, Marion
  • Brian Roe — Ohio State University, Columbus
  • Douglas Smith — USDA-ARS Soil Erosion Research Laboratory, West Lafayette, Ind.
  • Carrie Vollmer-Sanders — The Nature Conservancy, Angola, Ind.
  • Mark Williams — USDA-ARS Soil Drainage Research Unit, Columbus
  • Robyn Wilson — Ohio State University, Columbus

The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program is governed and guided by the Nutrient Stewardship Council, a diverse set of stakeholders from business, government, university and non-governmental sectors with a common goal of maintaining agricultural productivity while also improving the quality of Lake Erie and its contributing watersheds. The program is administered by the Ohio AgriBusiness Association. For more information, visit, email or call 614-326-7520.


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