Ohio Farm Bureau, NRCS unveil water quality demo farms

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Drainage ditch,
A drainage ditch between a field and road.

WOOSTER, Ohio — Three Ohio farms will open part of their operations to test water quality conservation practices in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

Through a partnership of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, the three farms will open nearly 700 acres to practices that farmers and conservation groups hope will lead to better conservation across the watershed, and statewide.

The farms, known as the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network, were announced April 20 in Findlay. They include Kellogg Farm, of Forest, Ohio; the Kurt Farm, of Dunkirk; and the Stateler Farm, of McComb.

The projects will be funded in part through a multi-million dollar investment by USDA, and farm groups, to implement better farming practices in the region. USDA announced an additional $41 million for the watershed in March, bringing the three-year investment to $77 million.

Significant change

Ohio’s state conservationist, Terry Cosby, said the investment will bring “significant change to the landscape,” with “a lot of boots on the ground,” as farmers, researchers and university experts work jointly to improve conservation.

The goal is to put a variety of practices into production at the farms, and open them for public review — including the non-farm public.

Cosby said the three farms will help educate farmers, but also “everyone who lives in the watershed.”

Lake Erie island
A shoreline on a Lake Erie island.

The goal is that farmers and the public will put those best practices to work on their own land.

Balancing act

Adam Sharp, vice president of public policy for Ohio Farm Bureau, said the Western Lake Erie basin is one of the most important agricultural basins, and fresh water basins, in the world.

“We believe, in Farm Bureau, that you can have both of these very important resources co-exist,” he said.

Aaron Heilers, of Botkins, Ohio, will serve as project manager. He previously worked as a nutrient management technician for Auglaize Soil and Water Conservation District.

Heilers said there are three main areas the demonstration farms will look at: in-field practices, such as the 4-Rs of nutrient management, and cover crops; edge-of-field practices, such as filter strips and drainage water management; and in-stream practices, such as two-stage ditches.

Practices that work

He said the goal is to “find the right combination from each one of those categories” that will work best and have the ”least amount of impact on the farmer’s bottom line.”

The farms will be open during special events held throughout the next several years, and to be announced as they’re planned.

“The agriculture community cares about water quality and this is our opportunity to showcase what we’re doing,” Heilers said.

Big investment

Cosby said NRCS will continue to work with all farmers on a voluntary basis, but he hopes they will see the benefit in the demonstration farms, and consider putting together a nutrient management plan for their own operations.

He said USDA is making a big investment in the basin, and accountability will be important.

“We need to be doing something pretty quick, we need to show results,” he said.

Other partners include:

Hardin and Hancock Soil and Water Conservation Districts; Blanchard River Watershed Partnership; Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts; The Nature Conservancy in Ohio; Ohio Department of Natural Resources; Ohio State University; USDA Agricultural Research; U.S. Geological Service; OSU Extension; Ohio Environmental Protection Agency; and Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Demonstration farm projects:

The Kellogg Farm (Forest, Ohio) project covers 305 acres in a corn/soybean rotation. This site will focus heavily on subsurface nutrient placement and its effect on yields. It also will look at potential fertilizer savings using different methods, timing and placements of cover crops. Other potential practices will include controlled traffic, conservation tillage, and proper storage facilities for on-site fertilizer and fuel tanks. An abandoned water well that is located within the crop field also will be removed.

The Kurt Farm, (Dunkirk, Ohio) will study 168 acres of corn/soybean fields. The project will monitor the effect on water quality of a two-stage ditch that was constructed previously with assistance from The Nature Conservancy. Other studies may look at subsurface placement of nutrients, plus no-till, cover crops, blind inlets, filter strips and nutrient removal technologies. Also planned is the removal of an abandoned gas well.

The Stateler project (McComb, Ohio) includes 208 acres in a corn, soybean and wheat rotation plus a swine wean to finish operation. This site will focus on managing nutrients associated with modern animal agriculture. In addition to existing conservation practices, other practices to be considered are intensive soil testing, drainage water management, tile water treatment systems, paired edge of field testing, alternative cropping rotations, and variable rate nutrient placement. An animal mortality composting facility is also being proposed.

Related coverage:

USDA says voluntary water quality efforts are working, announces more funding (March 29, 2016).

Lake Erie study says farmers need to do more, or plant grass (March 24, 2016).

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