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Nutrient management & Water quality



The equation for improving water quality

In just one short presentation at the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference in Ada, Newell Kitchen provided a great example that illustrates the complexities of the vexing water quality issues in Ohio agriculture.

Kitchen is with the USDA-ARS Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research Unit. Over the last two decades he has worked to address a challenge that has torn down civilizations for thousands of years — soil erosion.

“Civilizations didn’t so much collapse as they consumed themselves,” he said. “How do we get away from treating soils as consumable? When erosion consumes 1.5 inches of topsoil it takes 300 to 400 years to replace that soil if it is under grass. Erosion is still unfortunately a very active process on the agricultural landscape and it needs to be addressed. Sometimes we think a little erosion is not going to matter in the long run, but it does matter.”

To make matters worse, soil erosion also contributes significantly to problems with water quality.

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SB 1 passes Senate

Late last year there was a hard push to pass House Bill 490 to address water quality in Lake Erie. The Ohio Senate resumed work on this effort right out of the gate in 2015 with Senate Bill 1, which passed the Senate unanimously on Feb. 18.

“Legislators have included agriculture in discussions from the beginning and this bill represents a science-based approach to tackling some of the challenges we face in maintaining clean waterways for all Ohioans,” said Tommie Price, Ohio Soybean Association (OSA) president. “Ohio soybean farmers share their neighbors’ concern about water quality in Ohio and are committed to doing their part to find solutions that work. As water quality has been and will continue to be a priority for the OSA, our organization appreciates the due diligence that the Ohio Senate has done in drafting substitute Senate Bill 1.”

SB 1 would prohibit the spreading of manure or fertilizer in the Lake Erie Watershed when fields are frozen, snow-covered or saturated, or if there is a greater than 50% chance for at least an inch of rain in the next 12 hours.

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Water quality law and program update for Ohio agriculture

Winter’s cold may have cooled the algae growth in Lake Erie, but it continues to be a hot topic at the Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA) Industry Conference Dinner and Annual Meeting.

A large crowd of representatives from 250 different Ohio grain, feed, seed, fertilizer, and chemical companies were in attendance at the event to hear a number of presentations on water quality. The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program, which is administered by OABA, was part of the water quality discussion.

“We are really excited about the certification program and within the first couple of years we would like to see a million acres of ag land that is in accordance with the 4 Rs,” said Carrie Vollmer-Sanders, Western Lake Erie Basin project director for The Nature Conservancy. “When someone gets audited for the program, it may be that not all of the pieces and parts are there, but the education is happening and they are making progress.

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Perception is reality when it comes to water quality and agriculture

Perception is reality.

Those involved with agriculture have long known this — people smell with their eyes, support family farms but hate factory farms, and oppose GMOs even though they do not know what they are. These perceptions translate into realities for agriculture.

The ongoing public debate concerning water quality is laden with perceptions, misperceptions and plain old confusion, even more so than some of the other issues in agriculture. In the case of genetic modification, for example, the crops are among the most tested food ingredients in the history of mankind with no proven ill effects, yet the perception that they are bad and/or unhealthy persists. Even with science clearly on the side of genetically modified crops, perception continues to trump it. Amazing.

Now consider the power of perception in the water quality debate, where there simply is no definitive science able to clearly quantify the factors involved in causing the problem.

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Comparing neighboring fields

Anyone who has spent much time talking with Fairfield County cover crop expert Dave Brandt knows that he has a history of trying some unusual things on his farm. As one would expect, his neighbors have taken notice through the years.

Brandt said he has good relationships with those who farm around him, but he also rarely misses an opportunity (like any farmer) to compare his results with the neighbor’s.

To get an idea of how his long-term no-till with cover crops performed in terms of overall soil health, Brandt tested soil samples from his farm and the neighbor’s conventional farm taken on the same day to get a count of the different organisms present.

“The neighbor’s soil had 1,250 different types of critters in a soil sample,” Brandt said in his recent presentation at the National No-Tillage Conference in Cincinnati. “We sent ours in the same day and we had over 45,000 different critters.

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USDA grant will help protect central Ohio water quality

A central Ohio organization’s proposal is among 115 high-impact projects across all 50 states that will be granted more than $370 million in Federal funding as part of the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

RCPP competitively awards funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives.

“We fully expect the resources that were recently announced to be matched at least dollar for dollar,” said Tom Vilsack, USDA Secretary. “So what we are looking at is nearly three quarters of a billion dollars of investment in conservation.”

Nearly 600 pre-proposals were submitted in 2014. The top pre-proposals were invited to submit a full proposal, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) received 210 proposals requesting $1.4 billion — four times the available funding.

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HB 490 generates support and concerns from farmers

Farm nutrients are the subject of another piece of Ohio legislation that looks to have a solid chance of becoming law. House Bill 490 (HB 490) passed the Ohio House in November and is expected to be taken up in the Senate soon.

HB 490 contains a ban on the spreading of manure or commercial fertilizer in the Western Lake Erie Basin when conditions are conducive to nutrient runoff. These conditions include frozen and snow-covered ground, when the top two inches of soil are saturated by precipitation or when there is at least a 50% chance of precipitation in the weather forecast. However, the law will allow application under the above conditions if the nutrients are injected into the ground, incorporated within 24 hours of surface application or are applied to a growing crop.

The Ohio Farm Bureau is supporting the nutrient management amendment to HB 490 because its provisions benefit Lake Erie, include practices that are workable for farmers, apply to a well-defined geography and include appropriate penalties for non-compliance.

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Survey gauges Ohioans views on water resources

Safe drinking water is Ohioans’ No. 1 environmental priority, according to a survey sponsored by Healthy Water Ohio (HwO). Water quality outweighs all other environmental concerns including air quality, waste disposal, quantity of water supplies, land use and coping with weather extremes.

The survey of 1,000 Ohio voters aimed to identify the issues citizens care about relative to the quality, quantity and health of the state’s water resources.

HwO is a statewide coalition committed to developing a long-range plan to sustainably meet current and future water needs while enhancing the economy and quality of life for all Ohioans. Stakeholders include individuals and organizations connected to conservation, business and industry, universities, water suppliers, agriculture and others. The survey was conducted by Saperstein Associates, Inc.

When asked to rate the importance of several water issues, 88% of respondents said safe drinking water was very important, ranking it higher than protecting fish and wildlife habitat, repairing aging water systems, providing adequate water for commerce and industry, dealing with natural disasters and preserving water for recreation and tourism.

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Ohio fertilizer training program kicks off

Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences is ramping up its efforts to improve Ohio’s water quality through a new fertilizer applicator certification training program that’s designed to help growers increase crop yields using less fertilizer more efficiently, thus reducing the potential for phosphorus runoff into the state’s watersheds.

Introduced in September as part of Ohio’s new agricultural fertilization law, the program has already trained 777 Ohio growers who farm some 522,250 acres of farmland statewide, said Greg LaBarge, an Ohio State University Extension field specialist and one of the leaders of Ohio State’s Agronomic Crops Team.

Offering the certification training program is part of the college’s goal to improve the state’s water quality by informing growers how to lessen the use of phosphorus and keep more of it on the field, while increasing crop yields and boosting farm profits, LaBarge said.

“The training covers water quality and crop production best management practices, including encouraging growers to adhere to the principles of applying the right fertilizer at the right rate at the right time and in the right place,” he said.

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Buckeye Lake diving into causes of algae problems

Unfortunately, the problem is not a unique one, but the Buckeye Lake community in Fairfield, Licking and Perry Counties has come up with a unique approach to address the challenge of toxic algal blooms that are plaguing many Ohio lakes.

“We have been studying the watershed now for around eight years with the Fairfield County Soil and Water Conservation District, ODNR, Extension, the Ohio Department of Agriculture, and the Ohio EPA trying to understand better what is causing the nutrient increase in Buckeye Lake. As we read the studies that were done in 1930 and in 1973, we discovered that this is not a new situation,” said Merv Bartholow, a director of the Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow (BLT) watershed management group. “It has always been hypereutrophic, it has always been high in nutrients, it has always had blue green algae in it, and it has always had mycrosystin in it at varying levels.

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Handling manure the right way

Brad Mattix really wanted around 36,000 tons of poultry manure from Trillium Farms to sell and to spread over more than 4,000 acres of farmland in Marion and Crawford counties.

“The microbial activity benefits the soil and the yield potential is much better. Once we added this to the soil for five or six years, we were consistently out-yielding fields with commercial fertilizer. The only commercial fertilizer we use now is nitrogen. We showed Trillium Farms our plans and what we wanted to do,” Mattix said. “They said they would prefer us to do all of it.”

And, by all of it, the folks at Trillium Farms meant 135,000 tons of poultry litter from 12 million hens in facilities in Croton, Marseilles and Mt. Victory each year — a suggestion that would give the most ardent supporter of the value of manure a reason to pause.

“That made us wonder if we were going to get in over our heads but we came up with a battle plan to do it,” Mattix said.

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4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program launched

More than 250 agricultural retailers and stakeholders from the Ohio, Indiana and Michigan agriculture communities attended the launch of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification program Tuesday in Perrysburg. The voluntary program is geared toward the long-term improvement of Lake Erie’s water quality by applying the 4R principles.

The 4R approach — using the right nutrient source at the right rate and right time in the right place — serves as the guideline for the new certification program, which will be administered in the tri-state area by the Ohio AgriBusiness Association on behalf of the Nutrient Stewardship Council.

“The program has several features that will make it very effective in reducing the problems with algae blooms in Lake Erie,” said Bill Stanley, assistant director of The Nature Conservancy in Ohio and a member of the Nutrient Stewardship Advisory Committee.  “Most important are a set of scientifically rigorous standards developed with industry and academic involvement, as well as independent, third-party audits to ensure that those standards are followed.”

Nearly 200 agricultural retailers, service providers and other certified professionals attended the morning session featuring a panel of pilot project participants discussing the various reasons why a voluntary program is important.

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Water quality and nutrient management toolkit developed to address growing need

The complexities of nutrient management do not simply require occasional attention on the farm. Properly managing nutrients requires year-round effort, attention to details and careful record keeping. With these things in mind, the Shelby County Soil and Water Conservation District, Cargill in Sidney, and the Shelby County Farm Bureau teamed up to help farmers in the increasingly important management of the nutrients that are necessary components of crop and livestock production.

“I am not sure you can go to any farm meeting in the state right now and not have this topic come up,” said Andrea Guckes with Cargill. “We were very fortunate to work with a lot of people who really know their stuff and we were really excited to be a part of this.”

The effort that began last August has resulted in an educational toolkit for producers — “Water Quality & Nutrient Management … from Planning to Placement to Profit.”

“This is a local project that we have going on, but we believe this has application across all counties in the state and in other states.

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A strategy for determining manure management options

The concentration of livestock production facilities has contributed to excess nutrient loading, which has led to degraded surface water quality, increased algal blooms, and community concerns. Livestock manure applied to cropland can provide nutrients and improve soil conditions, but in areas with high livestock concentrations, the acreage needed to recycle manure nutrients may not be available due to excess nutrient loading. Alternative manure processing technologies (MPTs) that have the potential to utilize livestock manure for value-added products are available, but adoption has been limited because farmers lack objective data and a mechanism for comparing their effectiveness.

Under a USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant-funded project, information sheets for seven MPTs (Table 1) and an interactive MPT Decision Tool spreadsheet were developed by the Ohio Composting and Manure Management Program (OCAMM) at The Ohio State University’s OARDC in Wooster.

 

Table 1.  Manure processing technologies (MPT) for livestock manure.
TechnologyDescription

Use

Land Applicationorganic nutrients are applied to cropland

A

Separationa portion of the liquids are removed

A,C

Compostinga microbial process in which organic materials are decomposed in an aerobic environment

A

Anaerobic Digestiona microbial process in which organic materials are decomposed in an oxygen-free environment

A,B,C

P Recoverya chemical process in which phosphorus is captured and directly removed from stored liquid manure

A

Pyrolysisdirect thermochemical conversion of organic material in an oxygen deficient environment at low moisture and high temperature

A,B,C

Hydrothermal Liquefactiondirect thermochemical conversion of organic material in an oxygen deficient environment at high moisture, pressure, and temperature

A,B,C

Key: A-fertilizer and/or soil amendment;  B-renewable energy;  C-raw materials

The information sheets provide comprehensive objective information regarding the effectiveness of the seven technologies for managing and utilizing manure nutrients.

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New Year’s resolutions for livestock producers

Yes, it’s that time of year again: time to make the list — not check the list — of New Year’s resolutions for 2014. A few suggestions you may wish to consider as you go about developing your list of resolutions include the following:

I will follow the 4R scientific principles of nutrient stewardship.

Right source — Ensure a balanced supply of essential nutrients, considering both naturally available sources and the characteristics of specific products, in plant available forms.

Right rate — Assess and make decisions based on soil nutrient supply and plant demand.

Right time — Assess and make decisions based on the dynamics of crop uptake, soil supply, nutrient loss risks, and field operation logistics.

Right place — Address root-soil dynamics and nutrient movement, and manage spatial variability within the field to meet site-specific crop needs and limit potential losses from the field.

If I have a nutrient management plan for my farm, I will follow it.

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Ohio water quality bill gets revamped to buy time for research

Last summer, the Ohio Legislature introduced Senate Bill 150 to address the growing concerns of water quality, in large part through regulating nutrient management of agricultural operations.

While agriculture is undoubtedly a contributor of the phosphorus being blamed for the continued problems of toxic algae development in Ohio’s lakes and streams, there is also clearly still much to learn about this complex challenge and the best solutions in addressing it.

After a summer’s worth of work from legislators, agricultural organizations and other stakeholders, a new version of SB 150 was introduced in early November that pulls back on the reins a bit so the ongoing research can get ahead of the legislation.

“The development of algal blooms on numerous lakes across Ohio show there are still questions to answer regarding the quality of water in the state. These blooms also show that water quality issues go far beyond agricultural nutrients and we strongly encourage a more comprehensive review of water infrastructure in Ohio,” said Adam Ward, executive director of the Ohio Soybean Association.

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Discovering more options for managing crop nutrients

Increasing scrutiny of the state’s water quality is demanding that farmers in Ohio take a closer look at their nutrient management practices.

Those who attended this week’s research field day up in St. Johns, Mich. at the Agro-Culture Liquid headquarters got to see extensive research demonstrating how the company is feeding the needs of the crop and not the soil.

“We apply less nutrients because they are more available. They are 80% or 90% available compared to the 20% availability of dry products. You have to apply much more dry product for the same result,” said Troy Bancroft, Agro-Culture Liquid CEO. “When you are putting the product right in the correct seed zone with the plant using more of the nutrient, it creates less runoff and environmental impact.”

The company got its start more than 30 years ago and the current lines of Liquid products were developed after Bancroft and his father-in-law could not find the types of products they wanted for vegetable production that is predominant in the area.

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The impact of tillage on phosphorous loss

To try to narrow down a single reason that farm field phosphorous is being lost into water resources is simply not a feasible outcome of research. There are many factors that go into what is occurring in Ohio contributing to water quality issues in Lake Erie, Grand Lake St. Marys and other waterways. Farmers and scientists alike are looking at every possibility and taking every angle to learn how to correct a problem that is undeniable.

One of the factors discussed at this year’s Nutrient Management Field Day was the impact of tillage on phosphorous loss. Two components were taken into account on this Wood County field — the impact of phosphorous over yield as well as how to mitigate phosphorous loss from farm fields linked to hazardous algae blooms and the decline in water quality.

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Ohio farms become sites for water quality research

There is once again a flare up of toxic algae concern along the Lake Erie shoreline about the challenges that could face the economic staple of the region and the dinking water supply for millions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that the 2013 western Lake Erie harmful algal bloom will be larger than last year, but considerably less than the record-setting 2011 bloom.

The state’s farmers are inevitably given at least some of the blame in the challenging situation, but agriculture is not sitting idly by and watching the toxic algae problems unfold. Farmers are stepping up to address the challenges ahead.

More than $1 million is being invested by Ohio agricultural organizations, including the Ohio Soybean Council, Ohio Small Grains Marketing Program and the Ohio Corn Marketing Program.

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Ohio agriculture responds to proposed water quality rules

By Matt Reese

The comment period closed earlier this month for the proposed regulations for nutrient management in an effort to improve water quality in Ohio. Of course, agriculture is a key stakeholder in this debate and there were a wide variety of comments from Ohio’s agricultural organizations. One common theme running through the responses to this was that the lack of specifics in the proposed rules made it challenging to offer any specific comments.

These proposed rules are the next step of the process that started back in the summer of 2011 when Governor John Kasich asked the directors Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Natural Resources to form a task force to address Ohio’s algae problems. After six months of stakeholder meetings, a report was compiled based on the discussions and was provided to the Kasich administration about a year ago.

In short, the proposed rules establish a fertilizer applicator certification program that would be overseen by the Ohio Department of Agriculture for those applying nutrients to more than 10 acres.

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