Farmers must get out in front

Lake Erie, toxic algal bloom, algae,
Blue-green algae bloom in the summer of 2009 near Catawaba Island in Lake Erie. (Photo: NASA)

Commentary by Susan Crowell /

“Big agriculture is apparently getting bigger in Ohio. And with the fate of Lake Erie hanging in the balance, it is time for Ohio’s elected leaders to start paying more attention.”

That’s the opening salvo in an April 20 editorial in The Toledo Blade, which pointed the finger at Ohio’s largest farms for the excessive pollution in Lake Erie that triggers the lake’s toxic algae blooms.

They’re not totally wrong. Farms are getting larger. The 2017 Census of Agriculture that was released earlier this month shows there are 781 Ohio farms with 2,000 or more acres, an increase of 129 farms, or nearly 20%, from 10 years ago.

The size of the farm, however, doesn’t automatically mean that it is a greater polluter.

I don’t care where you live, or what size or type operation you run. I don’t care if you’re large or small, Amish or English, organic or conventional, if you have an 800-cow dairy or run six 4-H market goats. If you farm, you need to pay attention to how you manage your farm to minimize its impact on the environment. Period.

And some of you need to do a better job. On my way to Easter Sunday dinner, I drove by a field on a “good farm” with eroding gullies where a grassed waterway would’ve been an easy solution.

Now is not the time to assume this is someone else’s problem, or that it affects only the Lake Erie watershed. Now is the time to be proactive, to figure out how you can prevent runoff on your farm.

Do you manage your whole farm the same way, or do you manage by soil type or slope or crops grown in individual fields? Do you till, or do you practice no-till? Do you have any buffers, or contour strips or cover crops? Are you spreading nutrients on top of the ground, or are you injecting? Are you using any precision application methods? Are you looking at the timing or the placement of your applications?

There is no single answer for every farm. You have to figure out what minimizes erosion and runoff on your farm, and in each field.

If you’re a livestock owner, now is the time to take a harsh look at your manure storage and application. There was a lot of manure that went on the ground locally on Saturday, April 13. The next day, as forecasted, we had torrential rain and hail and wind. Where do you think a lot of that manure ended up?

The headline on that Blade editorial was this: “Big ag needs a closer look.” I read that to mean “agriculture needs a closer look.”

At a time when it’s very difficult to pencil anything out on the farm and stay in black ink, you have to consider what investments you need to make, or what changes you need to implement in order to earn — perhaps re-earn — the public’s trust. Because they are looking (although many consumers still do support you as farmers).

Next week, I want to peel back the curtain on the organization behind the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR). Trust me, it will scare you into action if my words today aren’t sufficient.

Public perception of agriculture is the key to its future. This is not the first time I’ve shared this quote from OSU’s retired ag economist Luther Tweeten, but it bears repeating: “The future of the industry and farm policy will not be decided by just the facts about farm structure and problems, but also by how the public views agriculture.”


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.