Nutrient management & Water quality

Ohio farms become sites for water quality research

There is once again a flare up of toxic algae concern along the Lake Erie shoreline about the challenges that could face the economic staple of the region and the dinking water supply for millions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that the 2013 western Lake Erie harmful algal bloom will be larger than last year, but considerably less than the record-setting 2011 bloom.

The state’s farmers are inevitably given at least some of the blame in the challenging situation, but agriculture is not sitting idly by and watching the toxic algae problems unfold. Farmers are stepping up to address the challenges ahead.

More than $1 million is being invested by Ohio agricultural organizations, including the Ohio Soybean Council, Ohio Small Grains Marketing Program and the Ohio Corn Marketing Program.… Continue reading

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Ohio agriculture responds to proposed water quality rules

By Matt Reese

The comment period closed earlier this month for the proposed regulations for nutrient management in an effort to improve water quality in Ohio. Of course, agriculture is a key stakeholder in this debate and there were a wide variety of comments from Ohio’s agricultural organizations. One common theme running through the responses to this was that the lack of specifics in the proposed rules made it challenging to offer any specific comments.

These proposed rules are the next step of the process that started back in the summer of 2011 when Governor John Kasich asked the directors Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Natural Resources to form a task force to address Ohio’s algae problems. After six months of stakeholder meetings, a report was compiled based on the discussions and was provided to the Kasich administration about a year ago.

In short, the proposed rules establish a fertilizer applicator certification program that would be overseen by the Ohio Department of Agriculture for those applying nutrients to more than 10 acres.… Continue reading

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Federal, state and local officials take advantage of water quality training

Ohio’s local soil and water conservation representatives received the tools and information they needed to inform Ohio farmers and landowners through a new training opportunity offered by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

The Nutrients and Water Quality class is a new component of ODNR’s Technician Development Program being offered through the ODNR Division of Soil and Water Resources. The class consisted of six hours of training, which focused on nutrient management techniques to improve and maintain water quality in Ohio’s lakes, streams and rivers.

“Water quality is an important issue in our state, and educating the people that work in our local soil and water conservation districts is crucial,” said ODNR Director James Zehringer. “ODNR made it a priority to offer this training to educate local technicians so they could effectively answer the questions of producers and landowners.”

Three training sessions were recently held for 121 federal, state and local experts.… Continue reading

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Water quality rules proposed for Ohio

By Matt Reese

Experts have been talking for years now about impending and increasing regulation on agricultural nutrients in an effort to address the notorious toxic algal blooms plaguing the state’s water. As of March 7, those regulations have been proposed for Ohio.

“There are essentially two components to this. One component deals with the Ohio Department of Agriculture and a fertilizer applicator certification program,” said Larry Antosch, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation senior director of environmental policy development. “If you are applying nutrients to more than 10 acres, you need to be certified by the ODA. This would be a companion to the restricted use pesticide applicator program. There are not a lot of details in the proposed legislation. Those details will come out in the rule making process and you never know what will happen there. We have questions about clarification regarding whether that applies to manure also or just commercial fertilizer.… Continue reading

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Have water quality regulations gone too far?

By Matt Reese

Thus far, lawmakers in Ohio are making a concerted effort to prioritize reality, and not political perception, in the regulatory debate about water quality. This has often not been the case, particularly in watersheds in Florida and in the Chesapeake Bay that have received the most federal attention. There has been speculation that the Chesapeake Bay, in particular, could serve as a national standard for regulation across the country, and that Lake Erie is next on the list of federal regulators. Despite the national spotlight, Josh McGrath, associate professor and soil and fertility and nutrient management specialist at the University of Maryland, said the Chesapeake Bay nutrient management strategies are far from ideal because they too often favor the politics over the reality of the situation.

“Maryland is probably the most highly regulated state in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which is probably the most highly regulated watershed for agriculture in the country,” McGrath said.… Continue reading

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Communication is crucial in water quality debate

By Matt Reese

As Ohio faces mounting water quality concerns with agriculture as culprit on the “to blame” list, there will be an inevitable debate over the balance of political perceptions and actual edge-of-field reality in terms of how to address the problem.

The green, toxic scum in Lake Erie and other Ohio bodies of water puts the interests of potential sources of excess phosphorus (which includes agriculture) against the multi-billion dollar recreation/drinking water value of the state’s lakes and streams. Something must be done about the problem, but there is still much work required to determine exactly what that something should be.

An important step for agriculture took place last November with the release of the Ohio Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Practice Standard for Nutrient Management.

“In Ohio we’ve had 26 water bodies affected by the toxic algae. Last year there were three states that had cattle die from drinking water with these toxins.… Continue reading

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Changing your farm in a changing climate

By Matt Reese

The climate is changing. Are farms changing with it?

“Climate changes all the time and I am not sure that it is something that we need to get too excited about, but we do have to adapt to it,” said Jim Hoorman, with Ohio State University Extension in Putnam County. “We are seeing increased heavy downpours, rising temperatures, and longer growing seasons. In a couple of years we could be seeing temperatures that we’d used to expect in Kentucky.”

Ultimately, the changes could have some clear benefits to Ohio agriculture.

“Overall it is probably going to be good for agriculture in the Midwest, but we have to adapt to extreme weather,” Hoorman said. “We also hear about more carbon dioxide. Is carbon dioxide good for agriculture? Absolutely. We’re looking at what could be 20% yield increases due to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Agriculture can be part of the solution to high carbon dioxide levels.… Continue reading

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Dean recognized for work with no-till

By Matt Reese

Allen Dean was recently recognized as the No-Till Farmer of the Year by the Ohio No-Till Council for his dedication to the lack of tillage on his Williams County soybean and wheat farm.

Dean’s parents did not farm, but he learned to love working on the land at a young age and spent many hours helping on area farms. Dean bought his first farm in the mid-1970s and then started expanding his acreage. With limited labor and funds, Dean soon saw the appeal of no-till farming.

“I started with conventional tillage, but all of that equipment was expensive,” he said. “I knew I could never afford all of that equipment, so I planted my first no-till corn field back behind the woods where no one could see it. That was 34 years ago on a 23-acre field. I was young and a lot of people were saying how this could never work, but within four years we were full blown into no-till with corn and beans.… Continue reading

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Cover crops boosting soils and profits

By Matt Reese

Like a kid on Christmas morning, Allen Dean can hardly wait to dig into his soil test results from the fields on his Williams County soybean and wheat farm. He excitedly looks to see how his soil nutrient holding has improved each year —something that has been happening consistently since he combined no-till and cover crops nine years ago.

“We’re applying less and less fertilizer and our soil test levels keep going up,” Dean said. “The cover crops are mineralizing a lot of nutrients and it is exciting to see that.”

Though no-till has been a standard practice on the farm for many years, the use of cover crops has been a more recent addition. Dean started looking into cover crops, including hairy vetch and oats, in the early 1980s as a way to improve his soils.

“We weren’t getting the results we wanted so we stopped planting them until we started looking at cover crops again nine years ago,” Dean said.… Continue reading

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Cover crop seeder turning heads in Williams County

By Matt Reese

Allen Dean’s wife Shelly has been talking about building a new house for years. But, unfortunately, the house will have to wait a bit longer.

The dream house project has been temporarily shelved due to a new cover crop seeder designed to facilitate the booming interest on the farm and in the area. Even though it had a dream house sized price tag, Allen decided he could not go another autumn without fulfilling another dream — a more viable way to seed cover crops on his William County farm.

“We had done a lot of work seeding with helicopters and airplanes, but we decided we could do a lot better job with a ground applicator. We had researched three different grant proposals and none of those worked out. So, in May we just decided to get this applicator built and we just went ahead and did it on our own,” Allen said.… Continue reading

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Controlled drainage paid off in 2012

By Matt Reese

The 100-bushel soybean yields at Louie Rehm’s Wayne County farm have been getting quite a bit of attention this fall for their performance above the ground, but that is largely due to what was happening below the ground. The big yields were boosted by the installation of a controlled drainage system this spring that provided the moisture the crop needed through the dry conditions this summer.

“The rest of our beans are running in the high 40s or low 50s — nothing like this field,” Rehm said. “This spring we tiled the field and we decided we wanted to install the blocks to hold back the

water. It really helped this year. Even in the drought this summer, the beans never wilted once because of the water they had in the soil where we blocked the tile. It was incredible. They just kept growing and growing.

“They held the water all summer.… Continue reading

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Farm Science Review to highlight practices to benefit water quality

By Amanda Meddles, Steve Prochaska and Glen Arnold, OSU Extension

This year Farm Science Review is celebrating its 50th show. It is amazing how far agriculture has come in 50 years. One thing we have learned in those 50 years is how important nutrient placement is for crop production and environmental sustainability. Ohio lakes have been suffering the past few years from excess nutrient loading that has resulted in Hazardous Algal Blooms. Fertilizer and manure used in crop production are sources of nutrients transported to Ohio lakes and rivers via sedimentation, runoff and tile discharge.

In July, Directors of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) announced the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative. This initiative will start the following specific farm level recommendations: 1) Take soil tests and follow fertilization rates as found in the Tri-State Recommendations and/or OSU Recommendations; 2) No spreading of phosphorus on frozen or snow covered ground; 3) Maintain good nutrient application records; 4) As much as possible, incorporate nutrients into the soil layer or on a growing crop at the appropriate time; 5) Follow the 4R Nutrient Steward guidelines found at:… Continue reading

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Ohio State Agencies launch the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative

Three state agencies jointly launched the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative, a program geared to improve water quality and reduce Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in the Western Basin of Lake Erie. HABs are threatening the ecological integrity and economic impact of Lake Erie, one of Ohio’s most precious natural resources.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) developed this initiative based on the findings of a report the agencies released in March.

“Agriculture is important to Ohio — it is the No. 1 industry in our state,” said ODA Director David Daniels. “The Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative focuses on reducing excess nutrients in our waterways resulting not only from agriculture, but from a variety of urban and residential sources, such as sewage overflow. Together our agencies believe we can address the challenges facing Ohio’s waterways through this program.”

The Directors’ Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group report includes recommendations for the implementation of a 4R Nutrient Stewardship program, which promotes using the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time, with the right placement.… Continue reading

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USDA announces water quality improvement projects

By Ty Higgins, Ohio Ag Net

On June 19, USDA Secretary Vilsack introduced financial assistance to support 23 new partnership projects in several Mississippi River Basin states. Assistance comes through NRCS’s Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative.

“We are building on our Mississippi River actions from previous years by continuing to target priority conservation practices in priority watersheds to improve water quality in the basin,” Vilsack said. “USDA is committed to working cooperatively with agricultural producers, partner organizations and state and local agencies to improve water quality and the quality of life for the millions of people who live in the Mississippi River Basin.”

This is the third year for this initiative that involves 13 states, including Ohio. So far, 118 projects have been announced for improving the Mississippi River Basin Watersheds with funding totaling $190 million.

“We have four goals,” said NRCS Chief Dave White. “Those goals are to increase water quality, restore wetlands, increase wildlife habitat and maintain agricultural productivity.”… Continue reading

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Is ag up a creek without a paddle on phosphorus issue?

By Matt Reese

I think I have convinced my children that I am pretty smart. They are at the ages where they ask copious amounts of questions. And, every time they ask me a question, I have an answer for them.

“Daddy, why is this soccer ball round?”

“So it rolls after you kick it.”

“Daddy, why do we have a fireplace?”

“So we can stay warm in the winter.”

“Daddy, where do baby puppies come from?”

“Ask your mother.”

And, while it is important for all-knowing parents such as myself to have all of the answers, it is a matter of political survival for politicians. The reality is, though, that nobody has all of the answers. In the case of what to do about the oft-discussed algal blooms in Lake Erie, there are no clear answers. But, an “I don’t know” from a politician in response to an angry constituent

who got a gooey glob of blue-green algae stuck in his jet ski is not acceptable.… Continue reading

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USDA gives assistance to Ohio for phosphorus prevention

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $2 million in financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help farmers in designated parts of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana prevent phosphorus from entering Western Lake Erie Basin waterways.  The announcement is part of an effort to improve water quality and support jobs in the region that are generated through the hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation industry. Secretary Vilsack was joined by U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (MI) and Sherrod Brown (OH), and Representatives John Dingell (MI) and Marcy Kaptur (OH) for the announcement.

“Our nation’s farmers and ranchers are a tremendous partner in helping protect the environment and this initiative gives them an additional opportunity to help address the challenges phosphorus poses to water quality in the basin,” Vilsack said. “This funding will help farmers take necessary steps to improve and protect the environmental health of the Lake Erie Basin, preserve habitat for the region’s fish and wildlife, and protect over 100,000 jobs that Lake Erie helps support.”… Continue reading

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Ohio agencies announce water quality measures

The Directors’ Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group spent months compiling their extensive findings on how agriculture is contributing to water quality problems and how this can be controlled. The group was assembled to aggregate all of the available information on the problem, organize it and present it to the directors of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency, who will then make recommendations to the governor.

The three Departments today announced their recommendations for reducing excess agricultural nutrients from affecting or entering the western basin of Lake Erie.

“Our agencies worked with Ohio’s agricultural community to identify the best ways to decrease this nutrient loading into Ohio’s water bodies,” said David Daniels, director of the ODA. “The farmers, private companies, agricultural organizations, agri-businesses, environmental organizations and academic institutions were all asked to provide their best input, ideas, advice and guidance.… Continue reading

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Tough phosphorus problem has no easy solutions

By Matt Reese

At the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference in Ada this week, attendees were bombarded with photos charts and graphs illustrating the water quality problems in Ohio. A glass full of green ooze scooped out of Lake Erie, an algae

filled spray behind a jet ski, countless charts showing a steady drop then a sharp rise in phosphorus levels in Ohio’s waterways – there is no shortage of evidence that there is a problem. There is, however, a shortage of viable an across-the-board solutions to the problem.

“We know what the issue is, but we don’t know how to solve it. We need research on this. Environmental groups are just saying, ‘Well, stop using phosphorus.’ We know we can’t do that,” said Glen Arnold, with Ohio State University Extension. “We had the worst algal bloom in 40 years in Lake Erie that provides 5 million people with drinking water it and contributes $10 billion to the economy.”… Continue reading

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4Rs: A simple concept and challenging reality

By Matt Reese

With regard to managing phosphorus, the 4Rs are easy to talk about, but it is much harder to actually implement the right source, at the right rate, in the right place at the right time.

“No matter what you do, there are times where there will be run-off and enough water to lose dissolved phosphorus,” said Tom Bruulsema, with the International Plant Nutrition Institute. “Even with great practices like waterways and buffer strips, if water is flowing right through, the dissolved phosphorus is moving right along with the water. The 4Rs are very simple to say and a lot harder to do. What is ‘right?’ The 4Rs take place in the context of the cropping system.”

Right source

“Science has shown that all plants require 17 essential nutrients and we need to apply plant available forms in the amounts needed. We need to credit nutrients from composts and manure for phosphorus and choose a source that you can get placed in the soil rather than on top of the soil,” Bruulsema said.… Continue reading

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Nutrient management important for future of ag

By Matt Reese

The monumental problem of phosphorus fed algal blooms in Lake Erie creates conflict between two powerful forces: food and agriculture versus drinking water

for 5 million people and a $10 billion recreation industry. Ohio agriculture continues to sit and wait (maybe somewhat nervously) on the inevitable announcement from Governor John Kasich concerning the 35-page summary resulting from the Phosphorus Task Force investigation into the recent surge of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.

“The Phosphorus Task Force started back in August. The Governor wanted a panel on this issue and there were 125 different groups represented,” said Karl Gebhardt, chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Soil and Water Resources at the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference (CTTC) in Ada. “The report has been submitted to the Governor and we feel pretty certain that he will be accepting most of the components of that plan.… Continue reading

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