It’s been a year since a harmful algal bloom in the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) was brought to national attention when the City of Toledo’s water supply was shut down due to toxins entering its water intake. Record-setting rainfall leading up to the hottest days of summer this year has renewed concerns regarding the quality of Ohio’s rivers, lakes and streams, with forecasts for the bloom to surge in the Great Lake.
A variety of potential contributors have been cited for the blooms, including sewage overflow and malfunctioning septic systems, among others. But nutrient runoff from farm fields has drawn the most attention. Phosphorus-based fertilizer is an elemental nutrient needed to help crops grow, but in recent years has made its way into nearby waters after heavy rains.
“Though less phosphorus is being applied with increasing efficiency, farmers and agribusinesses in the Western Lake Erie Basin recognize their responsibility to go further to find a solution,” said Chris Henney, president and CEO of the Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA). “For the better part of the past two years, swift action has been taken to support education, research and outreach aimed at curbing runoff.”
OABA, whose membership includes manufacturers, suppliers and applicators of phosphorus-based fertilizers and other crop nutrients, is one entity partnering with a variety of agriculture and environmental groups, researchers and experts to champion farming practices that improve water quality across the state for the long haul. The association is also a strong supporter of recent Ohio legislation that prohibits application of fertilizers when conditions are most conducive to runoff, and which calls for nutrient applicators across the state to be certified.
As administrator of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program, OABA, along with key partners such as The Nature Conservancy, The Fertilizer Institute and more, coordinates the education, training, implementation and third-party auditing for the application of nutrients using the 4R principles of nutrient stewardship.
The 4R principles help farmers and agribusinesses take a unified approach to nutrient stewardship by using the right fertilizer source at the right rate, the right time and in the right place.
Launched in March 2014, the program has exceeded early goals and expectations. As of late July, the completely voluntary program has recognized 16 certified facilities that service more than 3,000 farm clients and 1.1 million acres of farmland, with commitments from 50 more facilities to become certified.
What’s more promising, according to 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program Executive Director Andrew Allman, is that the efforts aren’t just limited to the WLEB. More than 477,000 acres of farmland outside of the WLEB are serviced by retailers and applicators certified through the program.
“This shows a serious level of commitment and dedication the industry is taking across the state to help clean up all of its waters, not just Lake Erie,” Allman said.
Nationally, The Fertilizer Institute’s 4R Research Fund provides needed resource support with a focus on measuring and documenting the economic, social and environmental impacts of 4R nutrient stewardship.
The fund has awarded projects across the country, including $1.2 million last July toward a project that will evaluate the 4R nutrient stewardship concepts in the WLEB by monitoring, modeling and measuring their impacts at the field, watershed and lake scales.
“We all live, work, play and drink from Ohio’s water sources, and we all play a role in keeping them clean and safe,” Henney said. “We’re proud of the work we’re doing and the commitment we have to improving our resources for future generations.”
Click here to download the 4R infographic.