COLUMBUS — The Ohio Senate has unanimously passed a bill designed to help control farm nutrient runoff and sedimentation.
On Jan. 22, the Senate voted 32-0 in favor of S.B. 150 — a bill that would require farm nutrient applicators to be certified by the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
The bill also amends certain definitions of what constitutes ag pollution, requires new tonnage reporting rules, and provides farmers the right to use nutrient management plans as an affirmative defense against complaints.
Larry Antosch, senior director of policy for Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, said farmers who apply ag nutrients to 50 or more acres would need to undergo training and education to become state certified.
The certification process is still being worked out, but Antosch said it will be similar to what pesticide applicators already undergo, and the fees, while not yet known, would likely be similar.
Certification would need to be renewed every three years and “bad actors,” who make obvious mistakes in how they apply fertilizer, could be suspended.
The bill also include new record keeping requirements to document how much nutrients are used on the farm. These records would not be public record, but would be accessible for government review.
The bill is in response to the toxic algal blooms showing up in Lake Erie the past few years, as well as pollution in Ohio’s inland lakes, rivers and streams.
Farmers and lawmakers know that agriculture is only part of the source, but have decided to do their part.
In his testimony on the Senate floor, Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, called the bill “a good first step towards recognizing and taking a proactive approach from the agriculture community that we do have an issue in this state when dealing with water quality and we definitely do value our water resources.”
Gentile referred to other states, where the U.S. EPA ended up deciding the regulations. The Ohio bill, in part, is seen as a way of precluding federal involvement and handling the issue in-state.
Ohio Sen. Bob Peterson, R-Fayette County, said he is “proud to be part of an industry that is stepping forward and stepping up.”
Peterson sponsored the bill, along with Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay.
Peterson said the ag industry is also making a “significant” personal investment, by contributing more than $1 million in research dollars, to fund a three-year study conducted by Ohio State University into phosphorus runoff.
Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, said the issue is serious.
“If we aren’t successful — if we aren’t more aggressive to deal with this issue — then we may have additional drinking water problems in this state, not just a lake issue or not just a farm agriculture issue,” he said.
At the same time, Gardner said the state needs to keep its agriculture strong, while also keeping its water safe.
“We need a strong agriculture economy in Ohio, and we need a healthy Lake Erie,” he said. “We can achieve both.”
Antosch said he expects the Ohio House will vote on a similar bill within a few weeks.
*** Updates being made. Farm and Dairy watched the Senate floor action via The Ohio Channel.