ADA, Ohio — Farmers who apply fertilizer to their fields, particularly manure, need to be aware that if the fertilizer winds up in a waterway, they could be facing fines as some farmers in northwestern Ohio did last summer.
In August 2017, three fish kills occurred in separate incidents in Williams, Allen and Hardin counties. Farmers had treated their fields with manure, then a major rainstorm came through.
This and more will be on the agenda at the upcoming Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference, March 6-7. The event is sponsored in part by OSU Extension, and will be held at Ohio Northern University in Ada.
The annual conference offers the latest research and techniques on conservation tillage, which involves leaving the remains of a harvested crop on a field to reduce erosion, as well as topics including soil quality, managing fertilizer application and precision agriculture.
A heavy rainfall can carry manure far from the field where it was applied, and Ohio is getting more downpours. There’s been a 25 percent increase in intense rainfall events in Ohio since the late 1990s, according to state climate records.
Crops need nitrogen and phosphorus, key ingredients in manure and commercial fertilizers. But when more nutrients are applied to soil than a crop can take up, some can flow with rainwater off the field.
Phosphorus can promote the growth of algae in waterways; algae, when they die and decompose, take up oxygen in the water, reducing what’s available for fish and other aquatic life. Also, manure contains a lot of ammonia, which binds with oxygen in waterways, leaving less for fish and putting them at risk of suffocating.
Most of the complaints that the state’s regulatory agencies receive about fertilizer application involve residents who report on someone who applied manure. State regulators will be on hand to discuss the issue, and what farmers can do to safeguard Ohio’s waterways and streams.
If applied correctly, manure can offer rich nutrients to the soil, said Glen Arnold, a manure management specialist with OSU Extension.
Arnold will address applying manure to the side of corn plants at the upcoming tillage conference. Arnold helped design technology that enables farmers to apply manure on a growing crop without crushing the crop.
Since manure is more likely to cause a fish kill than commercial fertilizers, it’s important for farmers that do apply manure to incorporate it into the ground immediately or within 24 hours, so it’s not left on the surface long, Arnold said.
“Most farmers mean to do well,” he said. “We are getting better every year, but there’s still room for improvement.”
Early registration for the tillage conference, before Feb. 24, costs $65 for one day or $85 for both. Registration after Feb. 24 is $80 a day or $105 for both days. For more information, visit http://ctc.osu.edu.