COLUMBUS — Those who apply fertilizer on 50 or more acres now have the option to take an exam or attend a three-hour course to get the required certification aimed at protecting water quality.
The exam is a new option the Ohio Department of Agriculture will offer to make it easier for farmers to get certified and yet ensure that those who are applying fertilizer know the safest measures.
The exam option was one of the rule changes on fertilizer certification that went into effect Oct. 1. The other changes include the following.
Those renewing their fertilizer certificate, which must be done every three years, must either pass a fertilizer exam or take a one-hour class. Previously, the recertification class was two hours.
Two new items were added to the required records that certified fertilizer applicators must keep.
Now applicators must record the number of acres where they applied fertilizer and the total amount of fertilizer applied.
Only one person at a farm or business needs to be certified to apply fertilizer.
A family member or employee of the certificate holder can apply fertilizer under their direct supervision, meaning the certificate holder has instructed that person where, when and how to apply fertilizer, and is no farther than 25 miles away or within two hours travel of the applicator working under their direct supervision. The rule change clarified that provision.
Certificate holders who do not also hold a license to apply pesticide will see their fertilizer certificate period change to April 1 to March 31. Previously, it was June 1 to May 31.
The new cycle is aimed at ensuring that certifications will generally be in place prior to the planting season.
A grace period of 180 days is offered to certificate holders who do not send in their application and payment prior to the date their certificate expires.
However, in renewing their certificate, the applicant has to have completed the required training or test before March 31.
Since Sept. 30, growers who apply fertilizer to more than 50 acres have been required to be certified, a measure aimed at keeping nutrients from farm fields from contributing to algal blooms in Lake Erie and other bodies of water.
Phosphorus and nitrogen in fertilizer can trigger the growth of algal blooms. Those blooms produce toxins in the water, making it unsafe to swim in or drink.
And as the blooms decompose, they take oxygen from the water, depleting the supply available for other aquatic life.
The extent of 2017 algal blooms in Lake Erie was the fourth most severe in a century, according to a November report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
All the recent changes are aimed at making the certification process less burdensome on farmers, said Peggy Hall, agricultural and resource law field specialist for Ohio State University Extension.
OSU Extension provides training for applying fertilizer, focusing on teaching how to apply fertilizer at the correct rate, time and location in the field, to keep nutrients in the field and available to crops while increasing stewardship of nearby and downstream water resources.
Across Ohio, an estimated 3,700 private fertilizer applicators have certificates expiring in March 2018, according to records from the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
OSU Extension will begin offering recertification programs in nearly every county this fall and winter, said Mary Ann Rose, program director for OSU Extension’s Pesticide Safety Education Program.
“Most of the fertilizer recertification programs will be offered in combination with pesticide recertification meetings; farmers will have the option to attend either or both,” Rose said.
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