What do changes mean for farm operations?
By GARY BROCK
Ohio farmers and livestock producers will need to make changes in how they operate in the future because of new water quality regulations being recommended by the state to fight runoff and algae contamination of our water supply.
That was the news given recently by Steve Prochaska, Field Specialist, Agronomic Systems for Ohio State University Extension.
In light of the letters sent in January to Ohio farmers by a coalition of about 20 Ohio agriculture organizations, including OSU Extension regarding water quality regulations, Prochaska told a gathering of farmers in Fayette County that the problem is real, and water runoff from parts is a contributing factor to the problem.
The letter to Ohio farmers said, in part: “As a farmer in Ohio you have a significant challenge bearing down quickly. Government, special interest groups, the media and the public all expect you to help clean up the state’s water resources.
If farmers don’t do this on their own, there will be federal and state laws and regulations that will mandate how you farm.
That is why you’re receiving this letter signed by nearly all of Ohio’s agricultural organizations — to make it clear that farmers must take seriously their responsibility to manage nutrients.”
Prochaska echoed these feelings, saying, “Ohio water resource quality has been diminished by cyanobacteria. Soluble phosphorus from agricultural fields is a contributing factor to this problem.”
And while farmers can talk all day about how they feel the real problem in Ohio water quality is from runoff into our streams, lakes and rivers from city/urban waste, the fact remains that farmland runoff has been pointed to as a source of Ohio’s water problems, and regulations will be addressing those problems.
“The decline in water quality has been linked to certain agricultural practices,” he said, and the phosphorous loss into streams was considered the main culprit. When this problem came to Gov. John Kasich’s attention in 2011, his response was simple, “Fix it.”
And the three state agencies given the task of “fixing it”, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency developed in mid-2012 the “Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative.”
This initiative includes guidelines and regulations for farmers aimed at protecting water quality.
Prochaska said farmers should start by following a list of “farm level” recommendations:
- Take soil tests and follow the fertilization rates found in the Tr-State Recommendations and the OSU recommendations;
- Do not spread phosphorous on frozen or snow-covered ground;
- As much as possible incorporate nutrients into the soil layer or onto the growing crop at the opportune time;
- Maintain good nutrient application records.
This is the right time, right place, right rate and right material method of keeping runoff from happening.
Prochaska said one of the biggest problems are hazardous algae blooms, which can be found throughout Ohio, including Fayette County. These organisms produce toxins in lakes and streams, and some of these toxins are hazardous to people, fish and animals. The outbreak of illnesses in Grand Lake St. Mary’s in 2011 was a defining example of this problem.
Ironically, the drought of 2012 saw a diminished problem with the toxin algae that turns lakes green — lack of rain means a lack of water runoff. And phosphorous runoff aids in the algae development.
Prochaska asked the area farmers at the recent seminar why soluble phosphorous is now leaving Ohio farm fields. He said there were several reasons, including changes in crop rotation, less wheat grown, changes in tillage, P and K broadcast spread in the fall and higher crop yields that leave greater residue on the soil.
In addition, Prochaska recommended to farmers that they:
- Repair broken subsurface drainage;
- Treat concentrated surface runoff areas;
- Construct wetlands for treatment;
- Control drainage;
- Look at alternate draining ditch designs.
The bottom line for Ohio farmers was made clear — follow these recommendations by the three state agencies to reduce runoff into the streams and lakes, or face mandatory regulations in the future if the problems persist.
(Gary Brock is editor of ACRES of Southwest Ohio.)