By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the peak season for harmful algal blooms approaches, Ohio farmers want the public to know they are committed to improving water quality while preserving agriculture’s economic contributions to the state.
So, an alliance of farm organizations, environmental advocates and more are putting forth a collaborative effort to positively affect water quality. “What we’re saying is that we, as in the agricultural community, recognize that there is a problem and we recognize that we have a responsibility to help solve the problem,” said Joe Cornely, spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
“What we wanted to accomplish at this point was to say to the public, who’ve got a lot of expectations, that we hear you. We’re going to work on what we can to fix this; we’re not sitting on our hands.”
It is important for the public to understand this is a problem that has built for decades, he said. And it is not something to be fixed overnight.
“There is a lot of research to be done, there are a lot of questions to ask and answers to find before we can come to a longer-term, more broad solution,” Cornely said. “In the meantime farmers are doing what we can to help alleviate as much of the problem as possible.”
Farm Bureau compiled a list of items of things that are already being done, but he emphasized that these are not Farm Bureau accomplishments. “This is a compilation of items that we collected on behalf of that coalition,” he said. “There are a lot of people engaged in all of this.”
The Ohio Pork Producers Council is engaged; they signed on with the coalition. “Ohio pig farmers care about the environment and work hard to protect our state’s natural resources,” said Dick Isler, executive vice president of the council.
“It is crucial that we do all we can to protect the water supply of our communities, families and animals.”
The Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Assoc. has also signed on.
“Ohio corn and wheat farmers want to be part of the solution and do their part to maintain and improve the health of Ohio’s waterways,” said Executive Director Tadd Nicholson.
“Ohio farmers share the same environmental priorities as their fellow citizens and are committed to doing the right thing for their farms, their families and all Ohioans.”
Some of the things Farm Bureau stated agriculture is doing to protect the water supply include:
•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 OSU 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, to encourage adoption of nutrient stewardship practices.
•Farm organizations and agribusinesses contributed $1 million to match a federal grant 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 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 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.
Other organizations involved in this coalition are Farm Credit Mid-America, Ohio AgriBusiness Assoc., Ohio Cattlemen’s Assoc., Ohio Corn Marketing Program, Ohio Dairy Producers Assoc., Ohio Farmers Union, Ohio Livestock Coalition, Ohio Nursery and Landscape Assoc., Ohio Poultry Assoc., Ohio Sheep Improvement Assoc., Ohio Small Grains Marketing Program, Ohio Soybean Assoc., Ohio Soybean Council, The Nature Conservancy, United Producers, Inc., Ohio Federation of Soil & Water Conservation Districts, OSU College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.