Addressing the challenges that threaten Ohio’s clean water resources is an important priority for the agriculture community. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) has released a report detailing its efforts to ensure safe and healthy water for the state.
The Water Quality Status Report provides a list of action items being taken by farmers, Farm Bureau and many collaborative partners to implement new farming techniques and best practices to protect water while farming productively. It emphasizes actions in the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB), but water quality is a statewide issue and Farm Bureau is addressing it throughout the state. Farm Bureau also has established statewide partnerships to identify comprehensive solutions to complex water issues.
“Normally, water is something we all take for granted, unless we have too much of it or not enough,” said Steve Hirsch, OFBF president. “Water quality and quantity has always been important to farmers, but they are also vital to the quality of life for all Ohioans.”
The Toledo water crisis and the recent algae bloom events in Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Mary’s prompted swift action by OFBF’s Board of Trustees to make sure that farmers in the major watersheds were doing their part to help to protect water quality in Ohio, thus creating the Water Quality Action Plan.
“We committed over $1 million of our member funds to water quality efforts,” Hirsch said. “We have also been encouraging farmers throughout the state and especially within the Western Lake Erie Basin to comply with Senate Bill 150 to complete their fertilizer applicator certification 2 years ahead of the 2017 state law requirement and then to go above and beyond that requirement to create a nutrient management plan for their farms.”
Ohio’s largest farm organization is also increasing their commitment to Healthy Water Ohio, a statewide coalition of water users, business groups and environmental interests that are creating a strategic plan for water over the next 20 to 30 years in Ohio.
Greg LaBarge, an Ohio State Extension Agronomy Field Specialist, has been very involved with outreach and educational efforts for Ohio farmers. Ohio State’s College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences has a long history of working with farmers on natural resource and environmental issues such as Ohio’s water quality. One of the latest outreach efforts is a program called “Field to Faucet.”
“This effort is taking a very close look at what we are doing from an agricultural standpoint and looking at the watershed in total, through the stream system and into Lake Erie’s Western Basin”, LaBarge said. “We are also thinking about what is happening to the water as it reenters the systems for citizens to use.”
Education is another aspect to cleaner water in The Buckeye State.
“With Senate Bill 150, a new program focusing on fertilizer applicator certification was developed,” LaBarge said. “Since September of 2014, we have trained 6,429 people across the state in 110 different meetings in all 88 counties. That effort will be ongoing as we work to meet that 2017 state law deadline.”
The collaboration of the state’s agricultural organizations with The Ohio State University and Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Districts is something that Farm Bureau Executive Vice President, Jack Fisher, is very proud to highlight.
“There has been a lot of work done when it comes to water quality, but there is a lot more to do and it will take a lot of time to do it,” Fisher said. “As we solve one or two things, more things may be brought to our attention and those issues will be added to our list to find solutions to. This is a big, complex issue and it will take time.”
There will also be the challenge of finding the balance between improving the water in Ohio and producing enough grains and oilseed to not only keep farms profitable, but to also feed an ever-growing population.
“Let’s not forget that as we talk about water quality and water management, we also take for granted food and food production,” Fisher said. “So as we go forward, our policy initiatives in water quality and food production have to be in collaboration and not in isolation.”