Remember learning about “if-then” statements in algebra class? The statements proved that if something happens, then something else will happen, or is true.
If x + 2 = 4, then x = 2.
The logic holds true outside of mathematics, too. For example, if I live in Nebraska, then I live west of Ohio.
(Of course, there are “if-then” statements that defy logic, but are gospel truth, nonetheless: If you get a Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, then you’ll shoot your eye out, kid.)
But sometimes life is more complicated than if-then logic statements. You never figured on factors like X, Y or Z when you were charting your best-laid plans. Soon, the if-then contingencies start branching off like multiflora rose.
I thought about all this as I listened to Kevin Elder, Ohio’s manure guru, at last weekend’s Power Show Ohio.
Elder, executive director of the Livestock Environmental Permitting Program within the Ohio Department of Agriculture, was explaining the toxic blue-green algae and water quality problems that closed Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio and hit 25 other lakes last summer.
Agriculture is the primary land use in the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed, and farmers there will be a major part of the restoration efforts. But don’t think just because you don’t farm in that watershed, you’re off the hook. We’ll be hearing lots more about watershed protection and regulation across the country, as states are mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency to establish nutrient standards for water bodies.
However, every watershed — and every farm, even every field, and every farm manager — is different and there’s the rub. There’s no easy, “if we do this, then everything will be honky-dory” solution.
Farm discharges or runoff vary with land use, cropping history, production practices, fertilizer use, livestock production, drainage, compaction, soil types and management practices, even earthworm activity, just to get started. Weather, temperatures, amount and intensity of precipitation — which we can’t control — also play a major role.
As I listened, I learned “dissolved reactive phosphorus,” or DRP, is a new yardstick to measure water quality. Problem is, Ohio EPA measures total phosphorus, and Ohio farm manure management plans use total phosphorus as a basis, not dissolved phosphorus. Dissolved phosphorus, Elder says, flows with water and is more difficult to dilute.
There are no real Best Management Practices for reducing dissolved reactive phosphorus, Elder added, but there are practices we know will lower the risk of discharge and increasing concentrations in runoff.
Nothing novel here, folks, just good ol’ agronomic practices: Soil test (and then heed what the test tells you); know the agronomic standards and recommendations for your soil type; calibrate your equipment; and, use some common sense (you don’t need to keep applying manure or fertilize if your field if it doesn’t need it).
No, cleaning up Grand Lake St. Marys, or any water body, won’t be that easy, and it may be akin to rocket science, but it does command our attention.
If we don’t listen, then we might be in big trouble.