Farm nutrients are the subject of another piece of Ohio legislation that looks to have a solid chance of becoming law. House Bill 490 (HB 490) passed the Ohio House in November and is expected to be taken up in the Senate soon.
HB 490 contains a ban on the spreading of manure or commercial fertilizer in the Western Lake Erie Basin when conditions are conducive to nutrient runoff. These conditions include frozen and snow-covered ground, when the top two inches of soil are saturated by precipitation or when there is at least a 50% chance of precipitation in the weather forecast. However, the law will allow application under the above conditions if the nutrients are injected into the ground, incorporated within 24 hours of surface application or are applied to a growing crop.
The Ohio Farm Bureau is supporting the nutrient management amendment to HB 490 because its provisions benefit Lake Erie, include practices that are workable for farmers, apply to a well-defined geography and include appropriate penalties for non-compliance.
Additionally, OFBF said HB 490 provisions are based on existing standards established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which are effective and practical. That does not mean there are no concerns.
Todd Hesterman farms in Henry County, where the rules would apply, and has worked extensively on conservation efforts for his farm and the Lake Erie Watershed.
“I have some serious concerns. I don’t think producers as a whole have been doing a poor job of management anyway. I feel that we have not had enough time yet for research and the edge of field monitoring to know exactly what the true causes of this situation are,” Hesterman said. “I know some plead the case that we don’t have time to wait, but we have to be careful jumping to conclusions too. This is a more dynamic problem than anybody really knows. In my time on the Phosphorus Task Force, I really felt that we needed more answers. We need to learn about the complexities of this situation. It is definitely not going to be a one or two year fix to make this water quality problem go away.”
While Hesterman does not think the HB 490 rules are unreasonable, he has reservations about any type of broad regulation before the complexities of the problem are better understood.
“This is a common sense a approach that really won’t change much of what we are doing on the farm, but this issue is too complicated to make a blanket legislative act to control all of the different circumstances that are out there,” he said. “Not everyone has soil prone to runoff or rolling ground. A blanket application for all of the conditions out there is just ridiculous. We all know these water quality issues are important and that we need to do our part. I just don’t think we have been given enough time to digest the complexity of this whole issue. There are so many parts of this that haven’t even been touched yet.”
Brad Mattix farms on the edge of the watershed and has a custom manure business, M&W Farm Supply, that applies the 135,000 tons of poultry litter annually from Trillium Farms’ 12 million hens in facilities in Croton, Marseilles and Mt. Victory. Mattix said the passage of HB 490 would not change much for his operation, either.
“I think this makes sense. You don’t want to be out there applying manure when the ground is really frozen,” Mattix said. “I don’t like regulation, but we have to be looking out for the next generation of agriculture. If we don’t address some of these issues with a little regulation now, their regulations will be so unbearable that it will be impossible to farm. We do things by the book and do very heavy soil sampling. There are some fields we do not apply manure on because the levels are already too high.”
But, Mattix is also sure to point out that everyone else outside of agriculture needs to work on improving water quality as well.
“We have to be responsible for everything we do. I just hope that they hold other people accountable too,” Mattix said. “We have Detroit’s raw sewage dumping into Lake Erie and other issues out there. This is not just the farmer causing this, there is a wide range of people who need to help correct this. Everybody has to be responsible for this, not just the farmer.”