HARDIN COUNTY - As the peak season approaches for Harmful Algal Blooms on Ohio's lakes, the Ohio farm community is pledging its best efforts to protect Ohio's valuable water resources.An alliance of farm organizations, environmental advocates, academia, businesses and other interested parties have begun a multi-step initiative to positively affect water quality both short-term and over an extended time frame.
The primary focus is on preventing the nutrient phosphorus from escaping from farm fields. While this nutrient is essential to producing food, fuel and fiber, it can drain from fields and feed the growth of HABs. University and other agricultural experts have made recommendations to protect water without reducing agricultural productivity. Many farmers are already taking steps as a down payment to address the part of the water quality problem caused by field runoff.
· Farmers are using soil tests to avoid applying excessive amounts of fertilizer. One survey showed 82 percent compliance with Ohio State University-approved testing practices.
· A pollution reduction project in the Lake Erie Basin reduced phosphorus applications by more than 180,000 pounds across 8,653 acres.
· Farmer-to-farmer outreach in the Grand Lake watershed helped achieve 100 percent compliance with state water quality mandates.
· 4,421 farmers attended 163 nutrient and water quality training sessions put on by Ohio State University Extension.
· 290 farmers are part of a test project that has expanded use of cover crops, variable rate applications, nutrient incorporation, controlled drainage structures and best management practices. Another study shows these types of efforts can reduce phosphorus escapes by nearly one-third.
· The state's agribusiness community is working with non-government organizations, universities and government agencies to develop a third-party certification program for commercial nutrient applicators that will encourage adoption of nutrient stewardship practices.
· Farm organizations and agribusinesses contributed $1 million to match a federal grant that is funding a three-year study to measure nutrient runoff and identify preventative practices.
· Agricultural representatives are engaged with the Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force, Directors' Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group, The Ohio Nutrient Forum Visioning Workshop and many other private and government entities that are working to understand the problem and arrive at solutions.
· Farmers are reviewing and providing feedback on state legislation that would improve water quality.
· The farm community was a vocal advocate for funding of water quality initiatives within the new state budget.
· A diverse group of 20 agricultural organizations corresponded with their members to elevate awareness of Ohio's nutrient and water challenges and encouraged them to adopt the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program that promotes the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time with the right placement. Since then, a survey shows that 71 percent of Ohio farmers now recognize the significance of the issue, and they're attending field days, seminars and training sessions to learn about the 4Rs and other environmentally-friendly practices.
· This same group, along with additional organizations, is planning a comprehensive, long-range project to address a variety of Ohio water issues.
Farmers are committed to improving water quality while preserving agriculture's economic contributions to Ohio.