In 20 counties across northwest Ohio, a team of water quality specialists is working with farmers to evaluate practices that promote soil health and reduce the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen entering waterways.
Part of the team’s work involves running field trials to determine the effects of applying varied rates of phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium fertilizers to cropland. Extensive soil testing has been done on fields to see the how planting cover crops and minimally tilling the land affects soil health. And new water quality monitoring stations have been set up to show trends in nutrient runoff rates.
Farmers in northwest Ohio have been cooperative, said Heather Raymond, director of the Water Quality Initiative launched by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
“Overall, there’s a desire to help,” Raymond said. “Farmers just want to make sure they’re not spending their money on something that doesn’t work. If we can help show how practices can enhance soil health and water quality and not hurt—and perhaps even improve—yields, then we’ll see success.”
Raymond will be one of the speakers at the upcoming virtual Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference March 9–12. All of the conference sessions have been prerecorded and can be viewed each day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Topics for each of the four days will be Crops (March 9), Nutrient Management (March 10), Pest Management (March 11), and Soil and Water Management (March 12). Registration is $50 per computer or smart phone.
The team of water quality associates, which launched its efforts a year ago, works hand in hand with CFAES faculty to help bring research findings and innovations to local farmers. Partnerships with Cargill and with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conversation Service support the team’s work.
Northwest Ohio is a high-priority region for reducing the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen running off agricultural fields. That runoff can cause the formation of harmful algal blooms in rivers, streams, inland lakes, and Lake Erie.
The water quality associates are working with farmers to understand their views on what conservation practices are feasible, said Brigitte Moneymaker, a water quality associate based in Auglaize County.
“We’re trying to help farmers improve water quality, increase their production, as well as enhance their soil health,” Moneymaker said. “A lot of these practices have also been shown to be profitable to farmers.”
Part of the higher profits come from spending less on fertilizer, she said.
Over the next year and half, the water quality associates will also help develop local water quality improvement plans. To encourage farmers to be involved in these plans, local agricultural community advisory groups will be formed.
Having these plans in place will open up additional opportunities for funding to pay for various practices that enhance water quality, such as cover crops and creating buffers along streambanks, Raymond said.
“The hope is that the additional money to carry out these measures will help drive change.”
To register or for more information about the upcoming Conservation Tillage conference, visit ctc.osu.edu.