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Nutrient management & Water quality



Attracting more farmers to participate in water quality efforts

Skepticism, more than anything else, is keeping farmers from changing how they apply fertilizer to their fields, according to a behavioral scientist at The Ohio State University.

Many farmers question whether the conservation measures they are being asked to do, such as applying fertilizer underground rather than on the surfaces of fields, will actually improve water quality in Lake Erie, said Robyn Wilson, a professor in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

And they also question whether they can carry out those measures on their farms, particularly small farms that typically have less equipment and fewer workers and financial resources than larger farms have, Wilson said.

So, offering farmers more evidence about the link between fertilizer runoff and the degraded water quality in Lake Erie — or even offering them funding to help pay for conservation measures — doesn’t necessary inspire more farmers to change their ways, Wilson said.

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Diverse stakeholder group to benchmark nutrient management efforts and create farmer certification to improve water quality

A unique collaboration of stakeholders representing the agriculture, conservation, environmental, and research communities have joined forces to develop and deploy a statewide water quality initiative. This unprecedented partnership brings together diverse interests to establish a baseline understanding of current on-farm conservation and nutrient management efforts and to build farmer participation in a new certification program.

The Agriculture Conservation Working Group recently held a two-day retreat in Ostrander, Ohio, where sub-committees focusing on best management practices, education development, governance, data management, certification and public outreach engaged in robust dialogue around strategies for introduction and implementation of the program. Much of the conversation centered on identifying the path to healthy waterways in the state, and the complex approaches necessary to understand existing practices and successfully engage farmers in education and certification.

“A group with a farm-level focus and representation from across the environmental, academic and agricultural communities has never come together before with a commitment to the shared objective of improved water quality,” said Scott Higgins, CEO, Ohio Dairy Producers Association and co-chair of the working group.

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A letter from Ohio agriculture to Ohio agriculture regarding LEBOR and water quality

Dear Friend,

The seriousness of the water quality issue as it pertains to Ohio agriculture has never been greater than it is right now.

With the recent passage of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR), Lake Erie has now been granted the same legal rights normally reserved for a person. That means that any Toledoan who believes a business in the watershed is doing something they deem as detrimental to the lake could sue on the lake’s behalf.

It was no secret that if LEBOR passed, agriculture would have the biggest target on its back. Farmers statewide need to be aware of its possible implications.

Wood County farmer Mark Drewes has taken the lead in challenging LEBOR in court. And this letter from every major agriculture group in the state is to let you know we fully support him.

Drewes acted quickly and took a strong approach when he bravely stood up for his family farm and all farms in Ohio by taking legal action to prevent senseless lawsuits stemming from LEBOR.

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Citizens of Toledo approve the Lake Erie Bill of Rights

By Kolt Buchenroth and Matt Reese

The Lake Erie Bill of Rights was passed by the citizens of Toledo in a special election held on Tuesday, Feb. 26. According to the results from the Lucas County Board of elections, the measure was passed by a vote of 61.4% to 38.6% with only 8.9% of voters turning out to the polls.

There was a failed attempt to get this on the 2018 November ballot in Toledo. The effort to get LEBOR on the ballot was supported by out-of-state interests but it could have a very real in-state impact for a wide range of businesses. LEBOR opens up the possibility of thousands of lawsuits against any entity that could be doing harm to Lake Erie. This includes agricultural operations.

“Farm Bureau members are disappointed with the results of the LEBOR vote. Our concern remains that its passage means Ohio farmers, taxpayers and businesses now face the prospect of costly legal bills fighting over a measure that likely will be found unconstitutional and unenforceable,” said Adam Sharp, executive vice president, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

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ODA announces $23 million for programs in Western Lake Erie Basin

By Kolt Buchenroth, Ohio Ag Net

Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) Director Dorothy Pelanda announced new assistance programs for producers in the Western Lake Erie Basin funded by the passage of Ohio Senate Bill 299 last year.

The bill provides $23.5 million for the 24 soil and water conservation districts located in the Western Lake Erie Basin for nutrient management programs. ODA has already distributed $3.5 million to the Northwest Ohio districts.

“Water quality is a top priority of our administration,” said Governor Mike DeWine. “Roughly 3 million Ohioans rely on Lake Erie for their drinking water. These programs are a good step toward promoting better water quality and more will come.”

At the 2019 Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts Annual Meeting, Director Pelanda announced plans for the remaining $20 million, to be spread across three new assistance programs set to begin in March.

“The budget that Governor DeWine plans to introduce will demonstrate his administration’s commitment to improving water quality,” Pelanda said. 

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Agricultural nutrients targeted in Clean Lake 2020 Bill and Kasich executive order

By Peggy Hall, Asst. Professor, Agricultural & Resource Law, Ohio State University

Recent actions by the Ohio legislature and Governor Kasich will affect the management of agricultural nutrients in Ohio. The Ohio General Assembly has passed “Clean Lake 2020” legislation that will provide funding for reducing phosphorous in Lake Erie. Governor Kasich signed the Clean Lake 2020 bill on July 10, in tandem with issuing Executive Order 2018—09K, “Taking Steps to Protect Lake Erie.” The two actions aim to address the impact of agricultural nutrients on water quality in Lake Erie.

The Clean Lake 2020 legislation provides funding for the following:

  • $20 million in FY 2019 for a Soil and Water Phosphorus Program in the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). In utilizing the funds, ODA must consult with the Lake Erie Commission and the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission to establish programs that help reduce total phosphorus and dissolved reactive phosphorus in the Western Lake Erie Basin and must give priority to sub-watersheds that are highest in total phosphorus and dissolved reactive phosphorus nutrient loading.
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Ohio Department of Agriculture updates Fertilizer Certification Program rules

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) recently revised the rules in order to fine-tune the program established in 2014 by Ohio’s legislature. ODA made several changes to the certification, education, and recordkeeping requirements for those who apply agricultural fertilizers to more than 50 acres of land in agricultural production.

 

Updates to the certification requirements

Three modifications to the certification requirements will: 1) provide additional clarity about how the certifications apply to employees, 2) adjust the cycle for when the certifications begin and expire, and 3) establish a grace period to obtain a renewal certification after a prior certification has expired.

  1. The new rule clarifies how the requirements apply to employees of businesses and farms, a provision that was unclear under the old rule. The certification rule requires all persons who apply fertilizer for the purpose of agricultural production on more than 50 acres of land to either personally have a certificate issued by the ODA Director, or to act under the instruction and control of a certificate holder.
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States tackle water quality individually and collectively

Of all of the components of agriculture that is overseen by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), the topic of water quality and nutrient management has been a key focus for many years.

ODA’s Director David Daniels, along with Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director Jamie Clover Adams and Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director Ted McKinney held a roundtable Monday, prior to the Midwest Association of the State Departments of Agriculture’s Annual Meeting being held in Cleveland this week.

All three state ag department leaders talked about what their state is doing to address the issue of water quality and nutrient management and also shared how their 3 states are working together to find solutions that work in creating a healthier Lake Erie Watershed.

Director Daniels reeled off the many initiatives being delivered in Ohio to address the situation, including the Fertilizer Applicator Certification Training Program, Ag Stewardship Verification, the Ohio Applicator Forecast Tool and millions of dollars of investments to help agriculture and other industries become a big part of finding a solution to the water quality problem.

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Fertilizer Applicator Certification Training to end soon

We are still getting a lot of questions about Fertilizer Certification from farmers.

  • Yes, this new regulation applies to you. You, being almost every farmer in Ohio. You have until Sept. 30, 2017 to become certified to apply fertilizer. And you all tell me you won’t go to meetings after about March 15—so this means get this done now.
  • While there are exceptions, most of these exceptions would only apply to a very small farmer such as one who has 50 acres or less.
  • This site gives more details on the legal issues: http://aglaw.osu.edu/blog-tags/agricultural-nutrient-management.
  • And “fertilizer” means anything with an N-P-K analysis — meaning yes this includes nitrogen if your retailer applies everything else and you only apply sidedress N.
  • And if you take manure from a concentrated animal feeding facility — a great opportunity by the way — then yes you too need to be certified to apply that manure.
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Nitrogen concerns in the mix?

This week I sat through three meetings on nutrients of concern in Ohio. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday — oh and while I was at one on the meetings I got a text with a picture of an Ohio legislator giving testimony on potential new phosphorus legislation.

On Tuesday, I was an invited speaker to the OSU soil fertility class along with a couple of others; the environmentalist of the group said that nitrogen was a great concern environmentally. I knew this but was surprised to hear her say it, because all I hear is about phosphorus and Lake Erie.

I sat through a meeting and discussion Wednesday on managing nitrogen in Ohio using precision application tools. Although the meeting was supposed to be about managing nitrogen, it seems to me it was more about selling goodies to hopefully manage nitrogen. And then on Friday I attended the rollout of the 4R retailer certification program statewide.

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4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program announces statewide expansion

While Lake Erie has garnered much of the water quality attention in the state, more efforts are shifting to the state’s other bodies of fresh water, including the Ohio River, that are also experiencing issues with harmful algal blooms.

At an event last week, the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program announced the expansion of the voluntary retailer program to the full state of Ohio, allowing nutrient service providers across the state to participate in the efforts to reduce nutrient runoff into waterways.

The program encourages agricultural retailers, service providers and other certified professionals to adopt proven best practices through the 4Rs, using the Right Nutrient Source at the Right Rate and Right Time in the Right Place. The program is governed and guided by the Nutrient Stewardship Council (NSC), stakeholders from business, government, university and nongovernmental sectors with a common goal of maintaining agricultural productivity while reducing nutrient runoff that contributes to decreased water quality.

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It takes many steps to find the right rate

Galen Koepke farms in Ottawa County on the banks of the Portage River just a few miles from Lake Erie.

A television crew was at Koepke’s farm within a few hours after the news broke after the Toledo water crisis in 2014. Since then, all agriculture in the watershed has been the subject of great water quality scrutiny, but Koepke is under a microscope.

In many ways, though, Koepke welcomes the attention because he knows he is doing things right according to the 4Rs with his farming practices. This has not always been easy, however, particularly for one 34-acre field that borders the Portage River. For many years, he had farmed and carefully managed the 20-acre field and then around 20 years ago he purchased a neighboring 14-acre field and combined them.

“On that 14 acres they had two large layer operations with a total of around 100,000 chickens and they had spread all the manure on that field for many years.

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4Rs in one pass

It has been said many times that there is no silver bullet for addressing the challenges of implementing the 4Rs. While it is not silver, Legacy Farmers Cooperative has fabricated a tool that can accomplish nutrient application at the right rate, the right time, with the right product in the right place and it will be rolling over more than 5,500 acres this fall in northwest Ohio at eight to 10 miles per hour.

Logan Haake is the precision ag manager for Legacy Farmers Cooperative who leads all precision planting, climate, grid sampling, field scouting, variable rate prescriptions, and other precision ag programs for Legacy Agronomy. A fairly new tool in his battle to help implement the 4Rs is a John Deere 2510H — an anhydrous tool bar for either pre-plant or sidedress applications.

Findlay Implement has been working with using the 2510H for subsurface applications of nutrients with very minimal soil disturbance to preserve the benefits of no-till for a couple of years now, renting it out to area farmers.

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Who gets water quality?

First, let me say that I get it.

I understand that the farmers in the Lake Erie Watershed were listening to the science and doing what everyone told them. It was once common knowledge that phosphorus did not move in the soil and that reducing tillage was the answer to the algal woes of Lake Erie because phosphorus attached to the soil.

Farmers did what they thought they were supposed to do. With less tillage reducing erosion, phosphorus could be applied when most convenient in the most convenient way. Lake Erie got better and the problem was solved. But it wasn’t.

Unfortunately, the science used to develop the recommendations for those practices had not taken all of reality into consideration. With this compliant shift toward conservation, broadcast phosphorus in reduced tillage situations started to concentrate on the surface and not attach to soil particles. This led to issues with surface runoff of small amounts of very potent dissolved phosphorus after big rains.

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Research yielding some clear answers to murky water quality questions

Farmers want answers on water quality. The general public wants answers. The residents on and around Ohio’s lakes and streams want answers.

But first, what exactly is the problem?

Laura Johnson works with the long-term water quality monitoring efforts at Heidelberg University in Tiffin. The research has painted a fairly clear picture of the agricultural impact on water quality in Lake Erie.

“We have a one of a kind long-term water monitoring program. The longest-term river monitoring efforts are the ones that run into Lake Erie like the Maumee, Sandusky, and Cuyahoga. We also monitor rivers running to the Ohio River and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. At those stations we monitor all year round, every day and we try and get all of the storm events because that is when everything comes off the fields and out into Lake Erie,” Johnson said. “When we look at our agricultural watersheds, we see this big increase in dissolved phosphorus and it is bioavailable for algae.

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Protecting water on our farm

Water quality. Two simple words that, when paired together, can stir the emotions of anyone regardless of whether or not they live near a significant body of water such as Lake Erie.

My family and I have always farmed in the Western Lake Erie Water Basin (WLEB). I have raised my family here and my kids are raising their families here. We have enjoyed living near Lake Erie, which offers so much to do in the summer months — fishing, boating, water skiing and more. I know how much Ohioans and out-of-state visitors look forward to spending family time and recreation time on the lake.

Because the WLEB is home to many farms, it is easy for people to jump to the conclusion that farmers are not doing enough to prevent nutrient run-off. I don’t think they take into consideration that farmers use and enjoy Ohio’s water in the same way they do.

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Understanding fertilizer numbers

Agronomy professionals can talk all day about a variety of the technical aspects involved in farming and growing crops. And many of them do, even me, or so I’ve been told. And when doing so, most assume that the audience is up to speed on the basics on which the talks are built. But that is not always the case. Recently I was talking with some growers and dealers about the analysis of a blend of fertilizer products, when I realized that there was some confusion on what exactly those numbers meant.

Look at any bag, jug or fertilizer label, and you will see three numbers separated by hyphens. These numbers represent nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium content. Some fertilizers have more than three numbers, and in those cases the extra numbers represent other nutrients. It doesn’t matter if it is liquid or dry fertilizer, as the numbers represent the percent by weight of each nutrient the product contains.

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Maximizing early season germination and emergence

Today, in America’s agriculture industry, we look to push the limits on every input we can to maximize the return on investment and simplify our operations. The fact is there is simply not enough margin in a crop or hours in a season to do much less. However, there are costly consequences associated with running that close to 100% capacity. Figuratively speaking, if the train begins to derail, you could spend the rest of the year trying to get everything back on track. The adoption of reduced tillage farming and early planting are just a few reasons today’s hybrids are faced with challenging conditions. Although, if managed correctly, these practices can be implemented without impacting final yields and thus, increase the overall efficiency of a grower’s operation. Let’s discuss some of the causes of germination and emergence issues, and management tips that can improve your planting methods this year.

1  Soil Temperature — Low soil temperature is one of the main reasons we see delayed emergence in our crops.

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Plant health and profitability

With the current prices of most crops, I think the majority of growers would agree that profitability is high on their list of priorities. Critical to profitability is a healthy crop. Obviously, there are many variables involved in keeping a crop in top condition. Let’s look at several of the factors involved in keeping a plant functioning at full potential depending on the conditions.

The first factor needed for optimum plant health is proper amounts of water — you know, not too much, not too little, just right. Mother Nature can keep growers wondering when the next rain will happen, while the ground is still black from the last rain. But, please don’t come so soon that the ground is water-logged, right? It is unnerving to have so much riding on timely rains, and when prices are low it seems like risks beyond our control are elevated.

In areas that irrigate, it seems like life should be good.

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Assembly required: Soil test instructions

In my house, two words — “assembly required” — have come close to ruining more Christmas mornings than the Grinch himself. For many growers it seems the words “fertility program” can cause as much anxiety as staring down a Barbie Dreamhouse box under the tree. One savior that occasionally graces us with its presence both on Christmas morning and in the field however, is a good set of instructions. The right manual can ease the assembly process and increase the likelihood of a job well-done. When determining a fertility program, a soil sample report is that instruction manual and can very well keep you from running to the bowl of egg nog.

Upon first glance, a complete soil sample report can look like something a nuclear engineer carries in his briefcase. However, when each component is broken down, a picture of the soil conditions and needs start to come together. Organic matter percentage, cation exchange capacity, pH and base saturation percentages should be included on any standard soil test and are key to understanding the physical and chemical characteristics of a soil.

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