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Nutrient management & Water quality



Soil testing — It doesn’t cost, it pays!

In today’s agricultural economy it is tempting to take a few shortcuts and not purchase inputs or services that were utilized in the past. Growers need to make the best use of their financial resources, but care must be taken not to cut inputs that can make money. As growers consider their crop nutrition needs it is tempting to forgo something as basic, but important, as soil testing.

Soil testing allows the grower to determine the current condition of the soil, including imbalances, deficiencies, and excesses. It also helps identify how much nutrition is already available in the soil so that fertilizer applications can be optimized. A multi-year testing program allows the grower to monitor changes in the soil over time.

Planning a soil sampling program requires the grower to know the field. A good starting point for planning a sampling plan is a soil survey map that identifies different soil types in that field.

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Fertilizer Applicator Certification Training will continue

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

As a reminder, your legislators recently passed two laws regarding the application of fertilizer and manure. Remember, our legislators are in place to represent the voting public of the state of Ohio. Ohio State University is not a regulatory agency; our goal is to deliver unbiased, fact-based information. We were invited by the Ohio Department to conduct the training for your fertilizer certification. We have been delivering research-based information on managing nutrients for 100 years.

Before 2014 we had laws in place only for large animal feeding operations to set manure application limits, and for fertilizer we only counted the tons used in the state. Since 2014 we now have a law based on Senate Bill 150 outlining the requirement to be certified to apply fertilizer — fertilizer meaning nutrients with an analysis. In 2015 legislators passed SB 1 (apparently it was their first priority of the year) to limit fertilizer and manure applications in northwest Ohio.

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Know what’s happening in your fields: Overcoming poor soil temperatures

It seems that the only thing to stay the same is that weather continues to change and present different challenges each year. I have probably paid more attention to weather this season than any season in the past, trying to understand and plan for shipping needs based on when conditions will be right for planting. I had a structural engineer ask me recently what the soil temperatures were because he knew that 50 degrees was considered a magic number for starting to get things going. I explained to him that in many places in the country right now, it looked like the calendar may override the soil temperatures and push people into the field more than in other years.

All that said, we are likely to have some crops in the field this year that are slow to start and may struggle at the first few stages of development. As most of you reading this will know, a good fertility program at planting time will be your greatest asset in cold, wet spring soils.

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Primary nutrient basics: Potassium

Potassium (K) is absorbed by plants in larger amounts than any other mineral nutrient except nitrogen, and is required for nutrient movement in the plant. It is essential for the makeup of over 40 different enzymes and is involved in more than 60 different enzyme systems in plants. Potassium is also important in the formation of sugars and starches in plants. Crops that produce a large amount of carbohydrates (sugars) such as cotton, almonds, alfalfa, grapes, cherries and peaches require large amounts of potassium.

Potassium is used by plants to regulate the process of opening and closing the stomatal openings of their leaves. That process influences water use efficiency and carbon dioxide use in the plant. Potassium’s influence on cell turgor pressure and water relations in the plant helps the plants resist the effects of drought and temperature extremes, and aids resistance to many plant diseases.

The problem

Depending on soil type, 90 to 98% of total soil potassium is unavailable.

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Sustainable soil health

“A Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.

We have learned some harsh lessons about how to treat our soil. While most of us are aware of the problems of the past, some agricultural operations in the world are not heeding those lessons.

We all know that healthy soil is essential to feed the ever-increasing population of the world. However, many agriculture practices continue to damage and deplete our natural resources — of which soil ranks among the top. These practices have caused reductions in soil productivity due to soil loss through erosion and changes in the nutritional balances in soil. This has resulted in nutrient depletion and increased our dependence on synthetic fertilizers. Because of the low efficiency of many commercial fertilizers, we have over-applied many nutrients to maintain or increase crop production levels.

Although these increased inputs have led to higher yields to meet the demand for food production, the over-application of nutrients has resulted in continuous environmental degradation of soil, water and vegetation resources.

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Control erosion and prevent fertilizer loss

Fertilizers can leave a field by several different routes. The route most beneficial to the crop is, of course, uptake and removal by the crop. Unfortunately there are other, less beneficial, routes for fertilizer to leave a field including through soil erosion. Most nutrients applied to the soil erode off of the field when soil is moved by wind or water. That soil, and its attached nutrients, can be deposited in surface waters causing a number of water quality issues. This can be prevented through erosion management and conservation practices. It is a landowner’s job to work towards preventing erosion that leads to water quality problems.

There are several erosion management practices that utilize vegetation to trap soil and prevent it from reaching surface water. Vegetative conservation practices can be placed in a production field, around the perimeter, or away from the field near sensitive areas such as rivers and streams.

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The basics of phosphorous in sensitive watersheds

Phosphorous (P) is a primary plant nutrient. It stimulates root, flower, fruit development and overall crop maturity. P is necessary for energy transfer and the formation of RNA and DNA. Most plants require additional phosphorous during cold weather, in areas of limited root growth, during rapid vegetative growth, and since phosphorus is very reactive, in highly calcareous or acid soils because of tie-up with other elements such as calcium or, in the case of acid soils, aluminum and iron.

Because phosphorus is reactive, it quickly forms compounds with other elements in the soil. Therefore, phosphorous has been thought of as immobile, and not leachable. However, it is being discovered that P does move, at least through macro pores, wormholes and cracks, as well as possibly making its way to drainage tiles and ditches.

Two forms of P can leave the field: Soluble phosphorous is lost with water runoff; insoluble (or particulate) phosphorous is lost with erosion.

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What you need to know about water quality regulations

Who needs to be certified?

By the law and regulations created with the passage of Senate Bill 150 in 2014 anyone in Ohio who applies fertilizer to 50 acres or more must be certified. This law applies to fertilizer (material having an analysis). If it’s manure, lime or other farm residue, you do not need to be certified by this law.

If all of your crop goes through an animal before it leaves the farm, you don’t need to be certified, but I think it’s a good idea if you do go to the class and get certified anyway.

 

How do you get certified?

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) will certify applicators in Ohio. If you are a Licensed Pesticide Applicator in Ohio, you attend a two-hour meeting and fill in and sign the attendance form. Ohio State University personnel supply the education for this class. We hope you pay attention and actually learn something.

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Wheat and water quality

While more farmers are thinking less about wheat in Ohio than they have in a very long time, the winter crop could be a factor in the water quality debate worth a bit more discussion. One important benefit of wheat is the crop rotation is a broader window for nutrient applications.

“If you look at the evolution of manure and fertilizer application, 50 years ago there was much more wheat grown in northwest Ohio and that was when most of the fertilizer was applied. As we have lost our wheat acreage that shifted most of our fertilizer application time and we are setting ourselves up for more nutrients on top of the ground in the fall. We have also had a lot more two-inch plus rain events. That number has doubled in the last 16 years. If you are going to have large rain events you are going to lose more nutrients off of your fields,” said Glen Arnold, a manure specialist with Ohio State University Extension.

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Environmental care yields water quality results

With new regulations — and the goal of improving water quality in Ohio — in mind, here is how some of Ohio’s livestock producers in different watersheds are addressing the situation on their farms.

We were very concerned when we started hearing about all of the water quality problems so we built wetlands downstream from all of our areas where we are feeding cattle. All of the runoff from the buildings or the lots goes through wetlands and they absorb the nutrients. Around Indian Lake and the main rivers going into it, we have added filter strips to keep the nutrients out of the water. We use cover crops and when we haul manure we try to do it on those growing crops or corn stalks or wheat stubble. We use all pack manure and we don’t have as many issues with leaching as you see with liquid manure.

We are 100% no-till unless we ditch a field.

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Addressing water quality in a distressed watershed

With new regulations — and the goal of improving water quality in Ohio — in mind, here is how some of Ohio’s livestock producers in different watersheds are addressing the situation on their farms.

We are in a distressed Grand Lake St. Marys watershed so we have been in this mode for a long time. We’ve added manure storage, we made our lagoon larger, and we put in two covered manure barns — one at the heifer farm and one at the main dairy — to get us enough storage to get through the winter months.

Conservation wise, we just finished putting in 150 acres of cover crops. We have been doing 100% cover crops on all of our corn silage ground, which is normally about 150 acres, for seven years now. The main crops we are using are oats and radishes, but we have used wheat, rye and ryegrass. We have had some fields in clover.

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Senate Bill 1 is a good start for water quality issues

With new regulations — and the goal of improving water quality in Ohio — in mind, here is how some of Ohio’s livestock producers in different watersheds are addressing the situation on their farms.

As far as Senate Bill 1, I believe it is a very good start, but now we have to get every single farmer on board and use common sense with winter applications. I believe it is not just manure application, there is application of commercial fertilizer on frozen ground as well that is contributing to the problem.

On our farm in the Lake Erie watershed we grid sample every acre, even rented ground, and apply manure and commercial fertilizer accordingly. We try to have all of our ground covered with some kind of crop. Our rotation includes corn, soybeans, wheat, cereal rye, crimson clover, oil seed radishes, kale, rape and red clover. We also try to be all no-till.

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Challenging situations on both ends of the river in water quality struggle

Secret fishing spots are guarded more closely than cherished family recipes. Instead of the corn and soybean markets, they talk about the walleye catch and the perch numbers. Instead of high dollar tractors, they buy bigger, better boats.

For the people around Lake Erie, that productive blue green expanse on Ohio’s northern border is their life, food, water, career, heritage, recreation, and home. In short, is sort of like your farm is to you.

So, when the people of Lake Erie see their way of life marred by a slick, poisonous green nightmare, it is not something they take lightly. Then they see the convincing (and legitimate) numbers of extensive water quality monitoring pointing squarely to agriculture as a leading culprit. They don’t take that lightly, either.

Toxic algae need phosphorus (P) to grow, and while there is still room for debate about the exact contributions of various sources, there is no doubt that agriculture is one of the culprits sending P down the river to the lake — from your farms to theirs.

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Understanding the flood of water quality regulations in Ohio

When it rains, it pours. That pretty much describes this growing season, or lack thereof. Metaphorically, it also applies to the new regulations regarding manure and fertilizer application that became law on July 3, 2015 that now apply to Ohio farmers in the Western Lake Erie Basin that includes 24 Ohio counties. Although these fertilizer and manure protections sunset after five years, it is more likely these regulations will be expanded to include all Ohio farms in the future.

In the Western Lake Erie Basin, a person may not surface apply manure under any of the following circumstances: on snow-covered or frozen soil; when the top two inches of soil are saturated from precipitation; or when the local weather forecast for the application area contains greater than a 50% chance of precipitation exceeding a half-inch in a 24-hour period. The exceptions to these stipulations are if the manure is injected into the ground, incorporated within 24 hours of surface application, applied onto a growing crop, or in the event of an emergency, with written special permission from the chief of the division of soil and water resources.

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Water Quality Status Report issued by Ohio Farm Bureau

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.

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Lake Erie water bill signed by Gov. Kasich

In late March, the House of Representatives passed a compromise bill known as Substitute Senate Bill 1 that combines parts of the House and Senate bills addressing water quality that were passed earlier this year. Senators Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, and Bob Peterson, R-Sabina sponsored the bill. Governor John Kasich signed the bill today at Maumee Bay State Park. It takes effect in 90 days.

The bill has broad support within agriculture for not only what it does, but also what it does not, include.

“We thank Gov. Kasich for signing Senate Bill 1 today in an ongoing effort to support clean and healthy water in Lake Erie. The Ohio AgriBusiness Association supports the bill because its fertilizer application limits are based on sound agronomics, and because it addresses issues with water treatment plants and the dumping of dredged material in Lake Erie,” said Chris Henney, OABA president and CEO. “We appreciate the governor and the General Assembly’s comprehensive approach to the issue and their willingness to work with, and listen to, the agricultural community through this process.”

The final version of Senate Bill 1 signed today by the governor does the following.

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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.

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Lake Erie water bill sent to Gov. Kasich

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a compromise bill known as Substitute Senate Bill 1 that combines parts of the House and Senate bills addressing water quality that were passed earlier this year. The Senate concurred with the amendments and SB 1 now awaits the governor’s signature. Senators Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, and Bob Peterson, R-Sabina sponsored the bill.

The bill prohibits the spreading of manure or fertilizer in the Lake Erie Watershed when fields are frozen, snow-covered or saturated. There are exemptions in place if the fertilizer or manure is incorporated within 24 hours or injected. Nutrient application is also prohibited if there is a greater than 50% chance of rainfall of more than one inch in the following 12 hours for granular nitrogen and phosphorus, and a half inch in 24 hours for manure.

In addition, farms applying manure from a Confined Animal Feeding Operation will be required to have a Livestock Manager Certification or be certified for nutrient application under SB 150.

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Prepare to do more for water quality

A heavy fog blanketed much of Ohio one early March morning as the long winter freeze was just starting to give way to the warmer temperatures of the coming spring. A thin top layer of the soil had thawed, but a deep freeze remained below. This, combined with persistent rains and a significant snowmelt, set the stage for nutrient and sediment loss from farm fields.

The Duling Farm in Putnam County has spent generations preparing the fields to withstand exactly these kinds of challenging situations with long term no-till, cover crops, closely scrutinized manure management, meticulous soil testing and analysis of results, injection of nutrients into fields with living crops, buffer strips, waterways, gypsum use, drainage management structures, and other practices to minimize soil and nutrient loss. If it can protect the soil and reduce nutrient loss, the Dulings have probably tried it.

Nonetheless, the thick fog that hung in the air on that murky March morning was not enough to obscure the flow of water containing some soil sediment and nutrients through the cover cropped fields, destined for the nearest waterway and a trip north to Lake Erie.

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OSU Extension efforts on water quality and nutrient management

Water quality and nutrient management issues are getting more and more attention these days. With additional regulatory measures being debated in the state legislature, it seems that everyone has an idea about how to ‘fix’ the algal blooms in Lake Erie and across Ohio. And not surprisingly, the ‘fix’ depends on who you ask.

The reality is that addressing nutrient management issues across the state is a complex and difficult task, as excessive nutrients come from a variety of different sources. But the work is increasingly important and relevant as the debate intensifies. Ohio State University Extension is working on many fronts to address nutrient management across the state and to work toward better use of nutrients, cleaner water and increased farmer profitability. (And yes, these three things can all peacefully coexist.) Here are a few examples of the work we are doing.

Education: OSU Extension remains committed to educating farmers in nutrient management stewardship.

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