Dairy update: Nutrient management legislation coming to Ohio

(Note: Ohio Sen. Bill 150, which would require most applicators of manufactured fertilizer to be certified, has been introduced)

WOOSTER, Ohio — Dairy producers got an update on pending water quality regulation and their state checkoff during a meeting June 24 at Jake’s Restaurant in Wooster, and the following day at MetroParks Farm in Mahoning County.

Scott Higgins, executive director of Ohio Dairy Producers Association, talked about legislation that’s expected to be introduced any day by Ohio lawmakers, dealing with new water quality regulations and application of soil nutrients.

The association has been actively involved in the statewide ag nutrients working group, which has met the last several years to discuss reasonable ways to reduce field runoff and improve the water quality in Ohio’s lakes and river bodies.

Wide representation

The working group included representation from at least 125 different farmers and farm organizations from across the state, and was coordinated by the directors of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources, and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The directors have testified before lawmakers about what should be in the legislation, which is still in draft form and mostly unavailable to the press. But Higgins said one trend that is widely known is the push to require anyone who applies farm nutrients to have a nutrient management plan.

Nutrient management plans today are encouraged, and permitted farms are required to have them in place. But Higgins said there is a “desire from the state to have everybody have a nutrient management plan.”

What’s a nutrient?

And, the definition of “agricultural nutrient” is changing, as well. Instead of applying to just manure, he said it will soon apply to fertilizer, as well, and will require fertilizer applicators to be certified, similarly to the current certification process for pesticide applicators.

In testimony presented June 11 before the Ohio Senate Agriculture Committee, ODNR Director James Zehringer said the goal should be to “keep nutrients on the land and out of our water,” and to recognize that “a nutrient is a nutrient,” regardless of its source.

Ohio Agriculture Director David Daniels, testifying at the same event, said the nutrient bill would also give ODA authority to develop a comprehensive certification program for commercial and private fertilizer applicators.

The curriculum for certification would rely heavily on the Four Rs: Apply the right source, at the right time, the right rate and in the right place. Applicators would need to renew their certificate every three years.

The legislation would also require licensed fertilizer retailers to report annual fertilizer sales data.Good stewards. Higgins said the dairy industry is aware that nutrient runoff is triggered by other sources, too, but that this particular effort focused specifically on what agriculture could do.

Higgins said farmers have “an opportunity to embrace the problem and see what we can collectively do.”

He said farmers aren’t intentionally applying fertilizer to harm waterways, but some of their Best Management Practices are being called into question. One way to defend against questions is to keep good records.He said the legislation as it stands today “is not reflective of all of our input,” but declined to take a position on it “until we have the final draft of it in hand.”

Farm bill

During a question session, he was asked about the future of the farm bill, which failed in the U.S. House of Representatives June 20. A big debate in the industry is over the Dairy Security Act legislation, which would provide margin protection and limited price protection for dairy farmers.

Higgins said ODPA has refrained from taking a position on the matter, but said the up and down cycles of the dairy market in recent years — something the legislation seeks to stabilize — “have been very powerful and very destructive to our ability to farm.”

Following lunch, Higgins, who is also president and CEO of the American Dairy Association Mideast, talked about the many ways the dairy checkoff continues to promote the sale and consumption of dairy products, including in schools and major retail stores.

He said a big thing is building and maintaining relationships, so milk and milk products remain popular among consumers.For more information about the checkoff programs, visit www.drink-milk.com. ODPA is available at www.ohiodairyproducers.org.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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