How will SB 150 affect your farm?

SeegersA conversation with…Tony Seegers, director of state policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation

OCJ: OFBF, along with many other state agricultural organizations, has been very involved in the process of developing SB 150. Could you share how the process unfolded?

Tony: ODA and ODNR had worked on a draft of the bill, which was shared with the agricultural community. The bill itself was introduced on June 25, 2013 by senators Cliff Hite, who is also chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Bob Peterson. The sponsors and agencies willingly worked with Farm Bureau and the other agricultural groups as the bill underwent several drafts during the committee hearing process in the Senate. Representative Dave Hall, chair of the House Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee, also did a great job of steering the bill through the House. It is interesting to note that through hearings in three committees and two chambers of the General Assembly there was not one “no” vote on the bill.

OCJ: How did OFBF members from OFBF county organizations contribute to this process that was carried out at the state level?

Tony: OFBF is a grassroots organization, which means our policy comes from our members’ involvement in their county Farm Bureau policy development process. Prior to work beginning on SB 150, Farm Bureau policy stated that all farms should have, and operate under, a nutrient management plan. We also had policy supporting legislation that provides an affirmative defense against civil lawsuits for farmers who follow industry-accepted practices for nutrient management.

During the 2013 annual meeting, OFBF delegates adopted policy stating that we support an education program on nutrient management that includes fertilizer applicator certification and should consider the following components:

1. Be part of a comprehensive nutrient reduction strategy addressing all sources of nutrients;

2. Provide adequate funding for research, education and outreach;

3. Provide adequate resources for the development, administration and implementation of the certification program;

4. Be economically feasible for farmers;

5. Be reasonable, not unduly burdensome to production agriculture;

6. Have a foundation based on sound research and field data that will result in meaningful off-site nutrient reduction;

7. Be technology driven; and

8. Provide clarity regarding the criteria for suspension of a certification.

We worked with lawmakers and agencies to ensure the bill tracked with OFBF’s newly adopted policy position on the subject.

OCJ: On its surface, SB 150, Ohio’s nutrient management bill, seems like it only adds regulations to Ohio farms, yet the bill has the broad support of the state’s agricultural organizations, including Ohio Farm Bureau. Why is SB 150 a good thing for farmers in Ohio?

Tony: Despite many voluntary actions by farmers to resolve phosphorous challenges, we recognized that the public needed additional assurances and that lawmakers were going to take action. Our farmer members recognized that much more important work needs to be done to address Ohio’s water issues. They want to be a part of those efforts and know that actions taken will work both for farmers and result in benefits to Ohio’s water.

OCJ: Politically speaking, as farmers face increasing scrutiny with regard to water quality at the state and federal levels, how is SB 150 beneficial moving forward?

Tony: It complements the extensive voluntary steps farmers are taking such as:

• Working cooperatively with universities, non-profits and government. Ohio’s farm organizations have contributed over $1 million to help fund a three-year study conducted by the Ohio State University researching phosphorous run-off. We hope to learn what techniques and technologies can be better utilized to keep dissolved phosphorous on the fields and out of our state’s waterways.

• And using soil tests to avoid applying excessive amounts of fertilizer.

• 290 farmers are part of a test project that has expanded use of cover crops, variable rate fertilizer applications, nutrient incorporation, controlled drainage structures and best management practices. Another study shows these types of efforts can reduce phosphorus escapes by nearly one-third.

Additionally, our partners in agriculture, environmental and conservation organizations are working with Farm Bureau to address Ohio’s water quality challenges. Harmful algal blooms did not happen in Grand Lake or the western basin of Lake Erie overnight. Therefore, the work to return those impacted water resources to their prior quality will take time. SB 150 is meant to be part of a comprehensive statewide nutrient reduction strategy that will help provide information to farmers on best practices to apply fertilizer.

SB 150’s educational component will focus on the “4Rs” of nutrient stewardship — the right source, the right rate, the right time and the right place to apply nutrients. With more education, farmers should see how to better target the application of fertilizer, thus reducing input costs.

OCJ: What big picture changes will SB 150 bring for farms?

Tony: I am not sure there will be “big picture changes” for farms. The fertilizer applicator certification component of SB 150 is modeled after the pesticide applicator license. In fact, those who have their pesticide applicator license can obtain their fertilizer applicator certification when renewing the pesticide license. The plan is there would be no additional cost if both are done at the same time.

The most impact will be that if you, as a farmer, apply fertilizer on more than 50 acres, you, or the person applying the fertilizer, will have to be certified. The bill allows for fertilizer to be applied by a person who is not certified if the person is applying the fertilizer “under the instruction and control” of someone who is certified. This allows an employee of a farm to be certified and “supervise” the application of fertilizer by another or the farm can utilize the services of a custom applicator.

OCJ: What on-farm day-to-day changes will SB 150 result in?

Tony: Someone will need to have a fertilizer applicator certification to apply fertilizer (again, if it is on more than 50 acres) or the person applying the fertilizer is doing so under the instructions and control of a person who is certified. So, the farm will either need to have someone in their operations that has the certification or utilize someone who is certified. Additionally, the person who is certified will have to maintain records regarding the application of the fertilizer. The records have to be kept for three years but are not required to be sent to ODA. However, ODA can review the records on request.

OCJ: While there will be some additional steps required for farmers, SB 150 also offers some protection for farmers who comply with some of the nutrient application recommendations. How can SB 150 offer protection for farmers?

Tony: An affirmative defense is a reason a defendant asserts to the court as to why that defendant should not have to pay damages. It is a tool to help a defendant have the case dismissed early on in the litigation process, thus saving possibly large legal fees. SB 150 will allow farmers to obtain an affirmative defense to civil actions for claims involving or resulting from the application of fertilizer if certain elements are met.

OCJ: What is the timeline for the implementation of SB 150, pending the governor’s signature?

Tony: Those who will be applying fertilizer on more than 50 acres for agricultural production will have until September 30, 2017 to obtain their fertilizer applicator certification. ODA has indicated after they finalize their rules on certification the classes will be offered as soon as possible. ODA is working with OSU Extension to offer the training.

OCJ: What does the future hold for nutrient management in Ohio with regard to agriculture?

Tony: SB 150 is meant to be one component of a more comprehensive statewide nutrient reduction strategy. Ohio agriculture has and will continue to do its part to protect our state’s precious water resources. As previously stated, our partners in agriculture, environmental and conservation organizations are working with Farm Bureau to address our state’s water quality needs.

OCJ: What is the key thing Ohio’s farmers need to know about water quality and nutrient management moving forward?

Tony: The public expects a reliable supply of water they believe is safe for their families. Farmers must be part of the process to meet that expectation. Our goal is to have healthy water and a healthy agricultural industry, both of which are important to Ohio’s families, communities and economy.

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