By Matt Reese
Last year I had the opportunity to serve as the head coach for my son’s third and fourth grade basketball team. As could be expected, wrangling a squirrelly group of elementary school boys did prove challenging, on occasion. This was on full display for the community to see on youth recognition night.
For the event, all of the elementary and junior high boys basketball players in the program gather at the school before a varsity game. The players get their names announced over the loudspeaker and then form two lines facing each other to make a “tunnel” where they slap hands with the varsity players as they run out before the game. It is a nice event to showcase the efforts of the youth.
My team was there, on time, with their jerseys on, which was a significant victory. They ran out as their names were announced as planned. We were well organized as we proceeded to the far end of the gym to form the tunnel. I got my players in place and all was well. I moved across to the opposite side of the tunnel to make room for all of the youth players to have front row access to the varsity players. I got into position and looked across to the other side of the tunnel to see, with great concern, that every member of my team had their backs facing the inside of the tunnel where the varsity players were about to run through. All of the other players were facing the proper direction with the exception of the seven players on my team. The announcer was getting ready to call out the varsity team and I was frantically flailing my arms and yelling across the tunnel to get the attention of my players who were completely oblivious to what was about to happen behind them — the culmination of the event.
Moments later, the varsity team ran out to slap the hands of every boy in the school basketball program with the exception of my seven players who had their backs turned to them. When the big moment finally arrived, my team had literally turned their backs to the main focus of the event. I was agitated. As the varsity players warmed up, I stormed across the now dispersing tunnel to express my disappointment and disapproval with my team.
“What were you guys thinking? Why did you turn your backs to the varsity team when they ran out? That was the whole reason we were here,” I pointed out in a tone that certainly showcased my frustration.
My third grade son turned to me with wide eyes.
“Daddy, we were watching the cheerleaders.”
It is hard to argue with this third grader logic. The varsity cheerleaders were certainly an understandable area of focus for my team, but definitely not the proper one given the specific circumstances. As we move into 2020 with a newly announced H2Ohio program for improving water quality in Ohio, I have witnessed some conversations that make me feel quite similar to the way I felt as I watched my basketball team looking in the wrong direction.
When considering the water quality politics of Ohio in recent years and administrations, H2Ohio is a tremendous victory for science, common sense and agriculture. Rather than pursuing blanket regulation and a potential myriad of unintended consequences, the DeWine Administration has teamed up with agriculture and other key stakeholders (including environmental groups) to create a voluntary program incentivizing practices proven to be beneficial to farm profitability and for water quality. This is an incredible opportunity for Ohio agriculture to showcase the good things that are already being done and step up implementation of these good practices with funding in place to ease the economic impacts of doing so.
Yet, in hearing discussions on this topic in meetings and coffee shops, it all-too-often comes back to something like: “Agriculture is not the only one to blame here….” Then the usual non-ag suspects are cited as the problem with water quality. Now, there is certainly room for debate of the source of and solutions for the algal bloom problems in Lake Erie and other bodies of water around the state.
Many questions do remain about the specifics in the role of agriculture in water quality and research projects are in place to continue to learn more. But, as an industry, agriculture really needs to be careful to keep the proper focus and not turn our backs to the incredible opportunities of H2Ohio in facilitating good practices on farms in the targeted watersheds.
H2Ohio is the result of a very rare cooperative effort from agricultural organizations, environmental groups and State government. Now the farms of northern Ohio need to fervently buy in to the efforts of H2Ohio and the Ohio Agriculture Conservation Initiative by cooperating on a voluntary basis. OACI brought together the diverse stakeholder groups to improve Ohio’s water quality through measurement, education and certification of Ohio’s farmers in the (hopefully) successful implementation of on-farm conservation and nutrient management practices with widespread participation of farmers. The initial OACI survey will be conducted in the Lower Maumee Watershed.
The coming weeks will bring forth a glut of information about H2Ohio and OACI with a heavy emphasis in the Lake Erie Western Basin watersheds. Let’s keep the cooperative focus of this effort top-of-mind at the farm level.
Ohio agriculture is on borrowed political time in terms of regulations for water quality. Any alternatives to widespread farm participation in H2Ohio and OACI efforts will be counterproductive and could ultimately set the stage for a much less flexible regulatory environment. It is my sincere hope that Ohio agriculture keeps focus in the proper direction as H2Ohio rolls out in 2020 to avoid turning our backs on the incredible work that has been done.