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Questions from the Fertilizer Applicator Training sessions

Last July the Ohio legislature passed Senate Bill 150 that requires those who apply fertilizer to more than 50 acres become certified. At more than 20 meetings this past fall and winter I have now presented all or part of the program for the Fertilizer Applicator Certification Training program to almost 2,000 people. We get a lot of questions and comments, after the first couple of meetings we became pretty familiar with what may come up. It has also been very good to see that after the two- or three-hour program that almost everyone understands there is a problem with nutrient loss and we are all a part of the problem.

So here are some of the common questions, and the answers we share.


If we don’t actually have to be certified until September 2017, then “why are we here now?”

The education process will take a while. We expect to train 3,000 to 5,000 growers a year because we just cannot get it all done in one year. Thankfully the legislators are giving Ohio State University Extension three years to get you trained. If you are licensed as a pesticide applicator then you will get a notice in your re-certification year as a reminder to also become certified to apply fertilizer. If you are not licensed, then you may volunteer to come in any time in the three years that we will be providing the three-hour Fertilizer Applicator Certification Training. We hope that you do not wait until the last minute.


After I get certified when do I start keeping records?

Once you become certified — meaning you attend a class, fill in the form and get that certificate from the Ohio Department of Agriculture —  then record keeping requirements begin.


I’m a CCA do I need to sit through this?

Not everyone needs to attend a class to become certified. Certified Crop Advisers (CCA) and Certified Livestock Managers (CLM) already have a training process that includes nutrient management education. They should already be aware of the nutrient pollutant concerns and know at least something about how to reduce the problem. So if you are a CCA or CLM, then contact ODA and provide your credentials with an application to get your certification.


I am a licensed pesticide applicator, but sitting in a three-hour training program. Can I leave after two hours?

Which is it a two- or a three-hour program? If you are currently a licensed pesticide applicator, then you are only required to sit through a two-hour program. We hope you do more than just sit and do actually learn a little something about the problem, though. We offer the three-hour program to those who are not licensed pesticide applicators. This group we find is often about 20 years younger than the licensed applicator — and many more are women. It seems we are bringing in the next younger generation to get the fertilizer certification. We hope they also become licensed pesticide applicators, too. These younger, less well trained, folks are required to attend the three-hour program. But no, if you attend a three-hour program then you must wait until the program is over to fill in forms. Honestly we really packed a four-hour program into the three hours so we really pack it in for the two-hour program. I think you will get more out of the 3-hour program.


I feed livestock and only fertilize pasture. Do I need the certification?

The law says that if you apply fertilizer to 50 acres or more then you must become certified, with a few exceptions. One exception is that if you run your crops through your animals then you don’t need to be certified. In the one group I spoke with in southern Ohio, many in the audience were livestock producers who graze their animals and feed some hay. Then they were exempt, but they were there getting certified anyway to learn more about how to reduce the problem. For the couple who sold hay, then we go back to the 50-acre rule — if they sell hay from more than 50 acres, then yes they must be certified.


I hear that manure is worse at polluting than fertilizer. Is that true?

Manure verses commercial fertilizer — we have been talking about manure management and use in western Ohio for some time now. And OSU scientists have run rainfall simulation trials to get an understanding of manure movement. It turns out when we compared similar applied levels of nutrient — nitrogen and phosphorus for example — between manure and commercial fertilizer then we had greater losses from commercial fertilizer than from manure. The reason is that virtually 100% of commercial fertilizer is water soluble, but for manure it may only be 30%. So while we may see brown water leaving a field after a manure application, chances are that the water leaving the field after a fertilizer application has a higher nutrient content in that clear solution.


Agriculture cannot be the only contributor to the problem?

Who else? Honestly it is all of us. Yes deer, raccoons even geese contribute to the nutrient excess problem. While cities have municipal waste treatment facilities, a lot of water runs through storm sewers that can carry lawn fertilizers — and then yes there are sewer overflows, too. The Phosphorus Task Force looked at all of those possible contributors and still found agriculture to be a big part of the problem. For example, if we take the western Lake Erie basin watershed, then agriculture covers 72% of the land area but may be contributing over 80% of the phosphorus. This estimate is based on the results of the paired edge of field studies under way that suggest we lose about two pounds of phosphorus per acre from a “normal” field situation in northern Ohio.


If the problem is just in Lake Erie, then why are you doing the training down here?

Well, the fertilizer applicator law says that everyone in Ohio who applies fertilizer shall be certified. And even though we have a very easy place to see the problems of excess nutrient loss in the western Lake Erie basin, that’s not the only place we have the problem. Excess nutrients appear and have become a problem in many water bodies across Ohio, from north to south and east to west. While it is 900 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico, our excess nitrogen and phosphorus are causing problems there too.


OK, you are spending all this time on phosphorus, why cover nitrogen too?

That is the other pollutant of concern. While we tend to think of fresh water bodies as being phosphorus limited for algal growth and salt water to be nitrogen limited — that’s just too simple to be the case. We need to reduce both nutrients to reduce cyanobacteria growth. Some studies have shown that if you limit phosphorus and not nitrogen too, then you may actually produce greater amounts of microstystin. Microsystin is the toxin produced in harmful algal blooms, such as have been seen in Lake Erie, Grand Lake St. Marys and Buckeye Lake.

Winter meeting season is winding down, with just a few more to go. We look forward to seeing you at one of our Fertilizer Applicator Certification Training events over the next couple of years. There are expected to be some events yet this spring and this summer. You can check out when and where those may be on the Nutrient Education website: http://pested.osu.edu/NutrientEducation/.

Harold Watters, Extension Field Agronomist, works out of the Extension office in Bellefontaine and can be reached at watters.35@osu.edu or by phone at 937 599-4227.

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