By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Ohio Field Leader: a project of the Ohio Soybean Council and soybean checkoff
While the state of Ohio has been reeling from challenges brought on by the Coronavirus, H2Ohio was quietly implemented this spring by several farmers in the Maumee River Watershed using conservation practices of variable rate phosphorus application with their planters, and subsurface phosphorus placement. The recommended conservation practices in H2Ohio have not changed, however the original application agreement details have. State budget concerns due to the impact of COVID-19 placed funding for the H2Ohio program in question. On March 23, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered all departments to reduce spending by 20% for the remainder of 2020 and also in 2021. In May, Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) Director Dorothy Pelanda, stated that the program would still be available to assist farmers in implementing select practices, however funding would not be available until the 2021 crop year.
“Although COVID-19 complications caused us to miss this growing season, we are confident that we will cover conservation crop year 21 in its entirety, which will begin this fall,” Pelanda said. “Funding for the following years remains uncertain at this time due to the uncertainty of the economy brought on by the pandemic, but we are optimistic.”
The Ohio Department of Agriculture’s reevaluated budget has $50 million in funds allocated for H2Ohio.
“$30 million in H2Ohio funds plus $20 million primarily allotted from SB 299 will be available to farmers currently enrolled in H2Ohio programs,” Pelanda said.
The payments for 2022 and 2023 will be pending the availability of funds from the state in those years. Recently, the county Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) were notified that H2Ohio funding for practices will now begin in the 2021 crop year. SWCD staff are contacting current H2Ohio program applicants to update the applications for selected practices for crop years 2021, 2022, and 2023. County SWCDs will have until Aug. 14 to revise program applications to reflect the changes. The ODA will evaluate the revised program applications from Sept. 1 through Oct. 31. They will then notify participants of the approval of their applications for the 2020 and 2021 practices.
Developing and getting approval of a Voluntary Nutrient Management Plan (VNMP) is the first step in being eligible to implement selected H2Ohio practices. From now until the end of the year, participants can develop and submit their VNMPs to their County SWCD Board of Supervisors for approval. Final plans must be approved by Dec. 31. All approved VNMPs are eligible for a payment of $2 per acre for all acres contained in the plan.
The VNMP must be approved before any H2Ohio practice can be implemented, and practices which are not implemented within the H2Ohio guidelines will not receive payments.
Those farmers implementing practices with manure incorporation must develop and receive approval for a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) to qualify for program payments. These farmers must submit all the information required to the plan writer by Dec. 31, 2020. CNMPs must be approved before any H2Ohio practice can be implemented and be eligible for payment.
In addition to Variable Rate Phosphorus Application and Subsurface Phosphorus Placement, this fall (2020), farmers can implement the Conservation Crop Rotation practices for both small grains and forages. These practices would apply to the 2021 cropping year and therefore be eligible for payment.
Beginning in the spring of 2021, farmers with approved VNMPs and CNMPs can implement all the other H2Ohio practices. Implementation will continue through the summer based on the specific practice, and all practices must be implemented no later than the fall of 2021 to be eligible to receive payment provided all the guidelines have been followed.