H2Ohio program funding rebounds amid budget cuts

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Lake Erie, LEBOR, Lake Erie Bill of Rights, water quality,
(Farm and Dairy/Susan Crowell photo)

Despite major budget cuts across state agencies, the Ohio Department of Agriculture will have $50 million available for Ohio farmers to improve conservation practices this year, through the H2Ohio initiative.

Nearly 2,000 farmers submitted applications before the March 30 deadline to enroll more than 1.1 million acres in the Maumee River Watershed in the H2Ohio program, Gov. Mike DeWine’s water quality initiative.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 23, DeWine ordered state agencies to cut spending up to 20% for the rest of this fiscal year and next year. Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda said in April the ODA was reevaluating its H2Ohio budget due to the cuts.

Now, Pelanda said in a statement, the ODA will have $50 million in funds for farmers currently enrolled in H2Ohio programs. Thirty million comes from the H2Ohio initiative, with the other $20 million coming from Ohio’s Clean Lake 2020 Plan, or, Senate Bill 299.

“This exceeds ODA’s expectations and positions the department to continue building valuable, conservation-based relationships with producers,” Pelanda said.

The details are still in the works, but the ODA plans to begin working with the farmers who enrolled and the 14 soil and water conservation districts involved to move forward.

“Although COVID-19 complications cause us to miss this growing season, we are confident that we will cover conservation crop year ’21 in its entirety, which will begin this fall,” Pelanda said.

In July 2019, the general assembly set aside $172 million to fund the initiative over two years.

Funding for farmers was limited to those in the Maumee River Watershed for 2020, but it was later expected to expand into other parts of the state. The rest of the budget for this year was planned to be used for creating wetlands and improving water quality by addressing failing septic systems and preventing lead contamination.

Funding for future years is still uncertain, but Pelanda said the ODA is optimistic.

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