Ohio grain symposium addresses water quality, farm bill


(Noe: The details of the early-bird market forecast will be reported in a separate article)

WILMINGTON, Ohio — With nearly 20 percent of the corn crop still in the fields and some soybeans still standing here and there, the third annual Ohio Grain Farmers Symposium was marked by a soggy year for all major crops.

Tadd Nicholson, interim director of the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association, said some farmers were likely working on the farm the day of the conference, Dec. 15, or recovering from late-night and early morning harvesting when the ground was most likely to be frozen.

But, he said the bulk of farmers who usually attend the conference were able to make it — about 200 registrants total — on a day that saw even more rain, along with wind and higher than normal temperatures.

Water actually was an important part of the discussion, as experts gave an update on Ohio’s progress toward managing water quality and controlling nutrient runoff. Other topics were the new farm bill and the early bird market report for 2012, in which Ohio State University Ag Economist Matt Roberts gave one of the first predictions at where grain prices are headed.

Water quality

Matt Beal of the Ohio Department of Agriculture gave a brief update of the state’s joint effort with ODA, Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio EPA to hash out new recommendations to better control the amount of sedimentation and dissolved phosphorous entering waterways.

The ag department is basing its recommendations on the increasingly popular “4-Rs” concept — applying the right among of fertilizer at the right rate, at the right time, and with the right placement. The concept is backed by The Fertilizer Institute and the past week became a part of NRCS’ National Nutrient Standard.

Beal said the ag department understands farmers are using best management practices and many other favorable practices to control runoff and nutrient loading, but more is needed, including more research to help determine the exact cause for the contaminants getting into the water.

“It can be a little tricky to figure out how to (resolve) the issue when you really don’t understand what’s causing it to begin with,” he said.

The work group for Ohio includes university researchers and soil and water scientists, who are researching some of these same questions.

Some farmers asked about other sources of nutrient pollution, such as municipality sewer systems and landscape and residential fertilizer use.

Big issue

Other state work groups, including the Ohio EPA, currently are assessing the contribution from non-ag sources. Beal said the state’s phosphorous task force is in the process of updating to a second phase, and is evaluating phosphorus in Lake Erie from farm and on-farm sources.

“There are a lot of complicating factors,” said Greg LeBarge, an ag natural resources expert with OSU Extension. LeBarge led a breakout session on water quality management with George Derringer, of NRCS.

In addition to farm pollution, they suspect a faulty Detroit sewer plant may have contributed to some of the phosphorous levels in Lake Erie.

The farm bill

Joe Shultz, an Ohio native now serving as senior economist to the U.S. Senate ag committee, said the farm bill needs finished sooner, not later, and faces increasing pressure from budget cuts.

“The federal budget has sucked up all the oxygen in Washington D.C,” Shultz said, taking farm policy funds along with it.

He said congressional ag leaders made $23 billion in cuts over 10-year period, good for about 2 percent of the overall $1.2 trillion congress is trying to save — or about the same percentage ag represents in the overall federal budget.

Although the so-called Super Committee failed to settle many budget issues this fall, Shultz praised the work of Senate and House ag leaders, for their bipartisan and bicameral support of the ag budget.

“This is what gives me hope for agriculture and what we should all be proud of,” he said.

In addition to overall funding cuts, Shultz said the new farm bill is making a significant shift from “fixed income support payments,” toward more crop insurance subsidies and risk management tools.

He said the markets are extremely volatile, referencing this past year and the record rain fall and low yields.

“We have to realize we are rapidly moving toward a system where crop insurance is going to be the foundation of farm safety,” he said.

Need new bill

Shultz was asked about extending the 2008 farm bill, but he said that would put the country’s farmers in worse condition, and would rely on outdated terms and conditions that would do more harm in the long-run.

Instead, he hopes work on the farm bill will wrap up this spring, before the political and presidential elections go into full-swing.

“We need to move forward now,” he said. “It only gets worse; it doesn’t get better.”

Yield contest awards were not presented during this year’s symposium, due to harvest delays and late announcement of current-year winners.

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