Kathy Mathers, vice president of public affairs for The Fertilizer Institute, spoke to reporters about the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program for proper fertilizer use in June, at The Andersons, a fertilizer supplier along the Maumee River near Toledo. The 4R program is guiding Ohio’s nutrient efforts.
COLUMBUS — Three state departments announced their joint plans to improve and monitor nutrient use on Ohio’s farm land during a press conference July 18.
Directors for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agency unveiled the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative — which will encourage best management practices of fertilizer and tillage, and help improve 33,500 acres of select farm land in northwestern Ohio.
The selected acreage — primarily in Defiance, Henry, Putnam, Hancock and Wood counties — will be studied for cover crop use and fertilizer application. About $1.5 million has been secured for the ag portion of the initiative in the form of the Healthy Lake Erie Fund, as well as reallocated Division of Soil and Water funds.
Jim Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said cost-share programs and technical assistance will help farmers install up to 200 water control devices across 4,000 acres. These devices help farmers control the rate at which their field tiles drain rain water, allowing them to restrict flow and keep it in fields longer when it is needed.
Another 4,500 acres will see the use of variable rate fertilizer application — the practice of applying fertilizer at different rates across the same field, based on the results of soil and yield data. Cover crops will also be planted on this land.
Some 6,000 acres will be used for variable rate fertilizer application, while also working the fertilizer into the soil. And 19,000 acres will be used for broadcast fertilizer application and working the fertilizer into the soil.
The different systems will be studied and reviewed for their benefits, and will be centered around the state’s “4R nutrient” standard — using the right source of fertilizer, at the right rate, time and place.
The initiative is based on the findings of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s Agricultural Nutrients Work Group, formed early in 2011 to assess and respond to agriculture’s contributions to phosphorus loading and sedimentation in the state’s lakes and rivers. Agricultural phosphorus is a known contributor to algal blooms in Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys.
The work group, comprised of the three state directors and more than 120 individuals, formed a set of mostly voluntary recommendations to improve nutrient use.
But some recommendations could lead to new laws.
State officials are looking into adding a commercial fertilizer application certification, to be modeled similarly to the pesticide certification program developed by Ohio State University Extension.
Efforts are also under way to develop new and more accurate data keeping of fertilizer use, and tonnage used.
And, state officials are working to increase soil testing. They plan to develop specific nutrient management plans that can be approved by county soil and water conservation districts.
Ohio Agriculture Director David Daniels said it’s important the state maintain its high level of agricultural production, but also keep track of where its nutrients are going.
“It’s (Ohio agriculture) a key contributor to our nation’s capacity to feed a hungry world,” he said. “It’s imperative that agricultural productivity be maintained in Ohio.”
He said good nutrient stewardship benefits the farmer as well as the environment, because it cuts down on wasteful inputs and positions nutrients where they’ll do the most good.
Studies have shown that crops have a maximum potential to use nutrients, and anything beyond the potential can be damaging to the plant or ineffective.
Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally said the effort will continue to be a joint effort with farmers, as well as conservationists and university researchers.
“It’s going to take leveraging of our resources to put a dent in this,” he said.
Partners include the University of Toledo, OSU, Heidelberg University, John Carroll University, the U.S. Geological Survey, and work groups from Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys.
It has not been announced how the cost-share conservation will be awarded, or which farms may be chosen.
Zehringer said state officials are hopeful they will be able to add an additional 15,000 acres to the project, if they secure a Great Lakes Restoration grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.