By Kolt Buchenroth, Ohio Ag Net
Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) Director Dorothy Pelanda announced new assistance programs for producers in the Western Lake Erie Basin funded by the passage of Ohio Senate Bill 299 last year.
The bill provides $23.5 million for the 24 soil and water conservation districts located in the Western Lake Erie Basin for nutrient management programs. ODA has already distributed $3.5 million to the Northwest Ohio districts.
“Water quality is a top priority of our administration,” said Governor Mike DeWine. “Roughly 3 million Ohioans rely on Lake Erie for their drinking water. These programs are a good step toward promoting better water quality and more will come.”
At the 2019 Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts Annual Meeting, Director Pelanda announced plans for the remaining $20 million, to be spread across three new assistance programs set to begin in March.
“The budget that Governor DeWine plans to introduce will demonstrate his administration’s commitment to improving water quality,” Pelanda said. “This $20 million suite of practices will go a long way toward our clean water initiatives and helping us set the tone for water quality efforts statewide. Our agency looks forward to working with producers to implement meaningful programs that make progress toward our common goals of soil and water conservation.”
The Ohio Working Lands Program will encourage producers to establish year-round vegetative cover on eligible cropland. The program will promote the conversion, establishment and maintenance of forage/hay land on certain cropland acres. Also, there will be a new incentive payment to encourage producers to re-enroll acreage through the Lake Erie Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. This will help reach the 67,000 acreage goal and increase conservation efforts. The department will spend $7.5 million on this program
The Voluntary Nutrient Management Plan Development Program — which will receive the most funding at $8 million — will be a partnership with the Ohio Agribusiness Association (OABA). Producers will be reimbursed for soil testing and nutrient management plans. This would help to ensure the 4R principles are put into place.
“OABA members understand the important role they play in helping farmers implement the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship, and we certainly look forward to our part in supporting the roll out of these new programs,” said Chris Henney, President and CEO of the Ohio AgriBusiness Association in a conference call on Tuesday.
The Cost Share and Equipment Buy Down Program will provide producers with funds to purchase technological improvements to agricultural land, equipment and structures to reduce nutrient loss. According to Kirk Hines, Chief of ODA’s Division of Soil and Water Conservation, the areas covered by this program are “nutrient placement, manure technology, and hydrologic modification which would really be drainage control structures, subsurface tile and control structures for that.”
“Ohio’s farmers are committed to doing their part to keep nutrients on our fields and out of our water and these programs will help us do that,” said Kris Swartz, Past President of the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Northwest Ohio farmer. “I’m confident interest for these programs will be strong and I know our soil and water districts are ready to put them into practice.”
The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation is supportive of these efforts.
“Farm Bureau has been engaged in identifying water quality solutions for years and it is evident a more broad and collaborative approach is necessary,” said Jack Irvin, senior director of state and national policy with Ohio Farm Bureau. “The passage of Ohio Senate Bill 299 is an important step in the right direction to build upon the progress that has been made.”
ODA encourages producers located in the Western Lake Erie to contact their local soil and water conservation district office to learn more and sign up for these new programs.