Farmers urged to reduce nutrient runoff
By MARK FAHEY
Ohio farmers received a letter from 20 of Ohio’s largest agricultural organizations in January urging them to take voluntary action to reduce nutrient runoff from their farms.
“Agriculture must begin immediately to reduce nutrient runoff in a manner that can be documented,” read the letter. “If this can’t be accomplished voluntarily, it will be imposed mandatorily.”
Nutrient runoff from farms can end up in local lakes and waterways, causing excessive algae growth. In 2011, high rain water levels and phosphate runoff caused algae blooms in the western basin of Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Mary’s in western Ohio, producing toxins that can make visitors sick.
A similar explosion of algae growth occurred in Deer Creek Lake in Pickaway County in 2010, as well as in other major lakes in the state. The problem was less noticeable last summer due to drought conditions.
“That’s kind of just where it shows up, in the water bodies. It doesn’t mean there’s not things growing in the streams too,” said Chet Murphy, district administrator for the Fayette County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Not only are local bodies of water affected, but nutrient pollution in southern Ohio eventually runs into the Mississippi River, contributing to a large “dead zone” each summer in the Gulf of Mexico. Excess nutrients in the Gulf lead to massive plant growth, and the decomposition of those plants removes oxygen from the water, killing fish and other marine animals.
“It’s really an issue for the entire state of Ohio because the same kinds of things that happen in Grand Lake and Lake Erie are happening in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Joe Cornely, senior director of communications at the Ohio Farm Bureau.”It’s geographically further removed, but it’s the same concept.”
In the letter, signed “Ohio’s agriculture community,” the Ohio Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations encouraged farmers to use the principles of “4R Nutrient Stewardship,” which include using the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time and with the right placement, to reduce nutrient pollution off their properties.
“It’s everybody’s responsibility to protect the environment and farmers are included in the Ohio community that shares in that responsibility,” said Cornely. “We’re not the only ones, but since we manage so much of the land base, a sizable chunk of the job is on our plate.”
Murphy said that the Fayette County Soil and Water Conservation District is partnering with the Fayette County Health Department to test water flowing in and out of the county to determine how much the area is adding or subtracting from nutrient loads.
“What we need to do from now on is to find a way to monitor results,” said Murphy. “I would not like to see it go to regulation. We’re a firm believer in voluntary efforts, but at some point that’s up to the public and legislative bodies and what they feel needs to happen.”
Murphy said that he has seen more and more effort being put into learning good nutrient stewardship, and Cornely said that the Farm Bureau has received a generally positive reaction to the call to action.
“I’ve been working with farmers for 30-some years and they’re aware that they have a job to do here,” said Cornely. “The purpose of the letter was just to remind folks of that, to drive home a recognition that this is not something that any of us can afford to ignore.”
(Mark Fahey is a staff writer for the Record-Herald in Washington Court House.)