Diverse stakeholder group to benchmark nutrient management efforts and create farmer certification to improve water quality

A unique collaboration of stakeholders representing the agriculture, conservation, environmental, and research communities have joined forces to develop and deploy a statewide water quality initiative. This unprecedented partnership brings together diverse interests to establish a baseline understanding of current on-farm conservation and nutrient management efforts and to build farmer participation in a new certification program.

The Agriculture Conservation Working Group recently held a two-day retreat in Ostrander, Ohio, where sub-committees focusing on best management practices, education development, governance, data management, certification and public outreach engaged in robust dialogue around strategies for introduction and implementation of the program. Much of the conversation centered on identifying the path to healthy waterways in the state, and the complex approaches necessary to understand existing practices and successfully engage farmers in education and certification.

“A group with a farm-level focus and representation from across the environmental, academic and agricultural communities has never come together before with a commitment to the shared objective of improved water quality,” said Scott Higgins, CEO, Ohio Dairy Producers Association and co-chair of the working group. “Agriculture has an important role in implementing continuous improvement efforts to reduce nutrient runoff, and this initiative will work toward broad-scale adoption of best management practices by Ohio’s farmers.”

Similar 4R certification programs have been successful for the retail fertilizer industry, and this initiative will leverage key learnings from the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program. When completed, the initiative will benchmark data and create a framework for certification of Ohio’s farms to support healthy waterways in Ohio.

“Bringing these diverse interests to the same table is a significant accomplishment, and we all share a common goal of clean water for all Ohioans,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, executive director, Ohio Environmental Council. “There is a shared sense of urgency towards finding solutions to our state’s water quality issue, and this all-inclusive approach to inventory farm practices and build a farmer certification program is a positive step in the process.”

The working group currently is establishing milestones from which to document progress. It projects that the proposed certification framework could be introduced as soon as the end of 2019.

More information will be available in the coming months as the group launches a website and other resources for stakeholders.

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