As 2011 ends and we look ahead at what might be the big issue for agriculture in 2012, I think the big issue will be on farm nutrient management.
I have come to this opinion because state government is now seriously assessing the relationship between algae blooms and cause and affect. The largest culprit in driving algae blooms is soluble phosphorous.
The source of this phosphorous varies from urban runoff to treatment plants but the most logical source is farm field runoff. It is important to note that each producing acre of crops itself may not be a significant contributor of phosphorous but the shear magnitude of the cropland acres in Ohio certainly is undeniable.
So what is happening? With the Grand Lake St. Marys explosion of algae this year in western Ohio, the state declared the drainage area watershed a “distressed watershed” the first in Ohio to receive such a declaration.
I think the community has moved passed the finger pointing stage and is searching for solutions. Federal dollars and state dollars have been sent to the appropriate agencies to begin their tasks at resolving the issue. Agriculture will be asked to provide a major portion of the reduction of nutrient runoff. In the end, if they can’t, I would expect potential lawsuits from businesses there and their economic losses.
Lake Erie also has signs of increasing algae growth and efforts will be mounted to further combat the nutrient runoff into the Lake from all sources.
Governor Kasich has instituted a water quality working group, which is currently meeting to determine appropriate actions to take in Ohio. The high level group consists of agency heads, agricultural representatives and others. I believe we will see outcomes that may effect manure applications, commercial fertilizer applications, new standards, new recommendations, even new conservation practices or requirements.
Ohio EPA is going through a process to bring down the nutrient loading of streams by sending USEPA a framework for nutrient reduction. The five facets are: improve stormwater management practices, enhance regulatory practices, expand public outreach and education efforts, improve land use practices and improve stream habitat management.
To think nothing will come out of these efforts is foolish this time around. I think the cause and effect question has been pretty well answered and to think business as usual will prevail is unlikely.
The reality is most farmers do an appreciated effort at controlling their erosion and and nutrient runoff. The problem is the scope of so many acres with maybe just a little bit of nutrient runoff from each acre adds up somewhere down stream. What do you think?