Water quality, nutrient use legislation is on drawing board in Ohio

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COLUMBUS — A couple years worth of input by farmers and the agriculture industry are being put together to form draft legislation in Ohio that will regulate nutrient management and potential farm-related pollution of water.

The process has been in motion for much longer, but was expedited in 2011 following the pollution-related algal blooms in Lake Erie.Ohio Gov. John Kasich organized an ag nutrients work group to gather and review the best way forward, and now that same group, as well as farmers across the state, are being asked to review proposed legislation to amend Ohio’s law on how fertilizer and other ag chemicals are applied.

It is not yet clear when the legislation will be introduced, nor who its sponsors will be.

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The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, which had a significant part in the work group’s discussions, is asking its members to review the proposals online and share comments by April 2. The Farm Bureau has direct links to the proposals at www.ofbf.org.

Larry Antosch, senior director of policy development and environmental policy for OFBF, said the proposals seem in line with what was discussed at the work group meetings.

Officials from the Ohio departments of agriculture and natural resources, as well as Ohio EPA, produced a final report from those meetings, which was shared with Kasich and his legislative staff.“These (proposals) are things that we talked about in that final report,” Antosch said.

But, he added, the ideas that came out of the work group were diverse, with different levels of support for different proposals.Proposed rules. As it stands, the proposed legislation seeks several key improvements.

It would give Ohio Department of Agriculture rule-making authority to develop a fertilizer application certification program, and require anyone who applies fertilizer for ag production on areas of more than 10 acres, to be certified by ODA.

It also would expand ODNR’s authority through the Division of Soil and Water Resources, to develop operation and nutrient management plans for commercial fertilizer, in addition to manure, sediment and materials attached to sediment.

These plans would address the “methods, amount, form, placement and timing” of all nutrient applications.

Fertilizer as ‘pollutant’?

The proposal also effectively classifies nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as “agricultural pollutants,” according to the OFBF summary.

Antosch said the question with fertilizer is always, “when does it become a pollutant?” He said it must be remembered there are many factors affecting fertilizer and where it ends up, as well as naturally occurring levels of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus from plant decay.

Two watersheds.

The proposal also allows the ODNR to classify two types of watersheds.One type, the “critical natural resources area,” would result in the following actions:

• An analysis by ODNR of the watershed, to identify sources and causes of ag pollution.

• A watershed management plan that would address the causes and sources of ag pollution, which may include requirements for storage, handling and land application of manure and fertilizer, as well as erosion control.

• Encourage all farmers to voluntarily develop and operate under an approved operation and nutrient management plan.

A second type of watershed, the “watershed in distress,” would result in most of the same actions, except there would be more emphasis on “requirements.”

Farmers would be required to follow an approved operation and nutrient management plan, and to establish a schedule for implementing this plan.

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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