ODPA's Scott Higgins spoke on manure legislation and other efforts undertaken by the organization.

Dairy producers talk phosphorous, manure legislation at summer meeting

It wasn’t long ago that Grand Lake St. Marys was the center of controversy due to Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). A lot has happened since that time and phosphorus reduction was one of several important topics at the Ohio Dairy Producers Association (ODPA) Summer Meeting held Wednesday on the banks of the lake in Celina.

“Ohio’s dairy farmers all realize the importance of partnering with the consuming public and with our state agencies and all the businesses that need to help solve the water problem in our state,” said Scott Higgins of the ODPA. “Two bills in the past year have been acted upon — Senate Bill 150, Senate Bill 1 — and dairy farmers know what the obligations are. The challenge we have is knowing how to get there. We brought folks together to help us with the technical nature of it and how can we get there quickly.”

Speakers for the day included Karl Gebhardt of the Ohio EPA, soil scientist Libby Dayton with Ohio State, Karen Scanlon with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, and keynote speaker Steve Rowe, CEO of Newtrient LLC.

Higgins spoke on a piece of legislation looking to help farmers comply with existing law that has been enacted to help address HABs in recent years.

“One of the things that came out of Senate Bill 1 and our commitment as an industry to reduce the potential for runoff in our streams and waterways, is the commitment to change our manure management practices,” Higgins said. ”One of the requirements is that we cannot haul manure during the wintertime on frozen and snow covered ground unless you have a growing cover crop underneath it — grass which would absorb those nutrients for example.”

Higgins noted that while producers may be ready to comply with such law, the actual infrastructure and resources to do such a thing just aren’t there in some cases.

“What we’re finding is there are a lot of our farm families that do not have enough nutrient management storage capacity. So if a farm typically hauls manure year round, they’re going to have to put in six months worth of manure storage. Those are costs that are extremely exorbitant,” he said. “So we’re working on right now with our state agencies and legislature to see if we can’t find a public, private partnership we can share in that cost and make those environmental changes on our farms and store that manure for a longer period of time.”

According to the Ohio Legislature website, House Bill 297 looks to authorize a refundable income tax credit for current livestock owners who invest in a manure storage or treatment facility or acquire manure application equipment or manure handling and transportation equipment. Higgins encouraged producers at the ODPA meeting to be advocates for the legislation.

“Dairy farmers simply can’t afford to do that on their own. Livestock operators cannot simply put up a bunch of manure storage, which costs maybe $1,000 per cow with milk prices that are $14 a hundredweight, or what we would consider is less than 77 cents per farm out of a gallon of milk that a consumer buys,” Higgins said. “We need some legislative support. We need a public, private partnership.”

Higher membership numbers were also reported at the meeting, part of a renewed effort to increase participating in the trade group with hopes of upping its overall membership to 1,000 farms and businesses.

“There are over 2,600 dairy farmers in the state of Ohio, and while they are all investing in advertising and promotion and consumer confidence messaging, when it comes to a trade association like the Ohio Dairy Producers Association, that’s a voluntary effort and each one of them needs to decide whether to be a part of it or not,” he said. “We are very excited by the fact that we have over 700 farms and businesses that support this organization.”

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