SALEM, Ohio — The state’s newly passed nutrient law will be on the minds of many farmers this spring, as they learn about what they’ll need to do to comply, and how it will affect their operation.
The law, known as S.B. 1, was signed by the governor April 2 and becomes effective in 90 days, or about the first of July.
You can read the bill in its entirety on the Ohio Legislature website, at www.legislature.ohio.gov.
But with all the concerns, and the fact that it’s planting season, Farm and Dairy thought it might be useful to put together our own list of concerns — and answers — to some of the biggest questions.
The following pertain to concerns we’ve heard, and that have been voiced to us by state soil and water professionals.
Q. I heard there’s a ban on applying manure and fertilizer in the winter. How does this work?
A. This is true, but it’s a specific ban for a specific part of the state. The ban applies to the western Lake Erie basin — roughly 15 counties and parts of a few other counties — depending on where certain watersheds overlap the county borders.
The law prohibits application of manure and fertilizer to “frozen or snow-covered ground,” and to ground where the top 2 inches are saturated with precipitation.
The law also provides certain forecast requirements. Farmers in that region are not to spread manure if there’s more than a 50 percent chance of heavy rain (more than 1/2 inch) within 24 hours. And they’re not to spread fertilizer if there’s more than a 50 percent chance of a rain exceeding 1 inch, within 12 hours.
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Q. Where exactly is the “western Lake Erie basin?”
A. The short answer is the northwest quadrant of Ohio. The specific answer is that it includes 11 watersheds, which cover all or parts of about 24 counties. You can find maps of these watersheds on the U.S. Geological Survey website, www.water.usgs.gov /water.
The names of each watershed and the corresponding hydrologic unit are as follows: St. Marys watershed, code 04100004; Auglaize watershed, code 04100007; Blanchard watershed, code 04100008; Sandusky watershed, code 04100011; Cedar-Portage watershed, code 04100010; Lower Maumee watershed, code 04100009; Upper Maumee watershed, code 04100005; Tiffin watershed, code 04100006; St. Joseph watershed, code 04100003; Ottawa watershed, code 04100001; and River Raisin watershed, code 04100002.
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Q. What if my farm is not in the western Lake Erie basin?
A. You’re in luck — sort of. While farms outside the western Lake Erie basin are not subject to these prohibitions, they should still keep them in mind as good agricultural practices — and remember that the ban could eventually be extended to include more watersheds or even the whole state.
This may be a good time to review your nutrient management plan, or if you don’t have one, to see your local soil and water or Natural Resources Conservation Service staff, about how you can be prepared.
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Q. Will the nutrient ban eventually go statewide?
A. That’s the million-dollar question, and there is definitely a lot of concern over how a statewide ban would affect Ohio’s diversity of farms — many of which do not have long-term manure storage.
Some lawmakers initially considered a statewide ban, but the bill was amended to include only the western Lake Erie basin. If the ban is later extended, some farmers will better situated than others to store manure through the winter, and some could face cost-prohibitive decisions about the future of their farm.
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Q. Does the new law just target agriculture?
A. While S.B. 1 includes new provisions for farmers, it also cracks down on some of the other known causes of water pollution, including open-lake dredging, failed septic systems and under-performing wastewater treatment plants. The law includes a prohibition on open-lake dumping of dredged material by 2020, and it includes various new monitoring requirements for wastewater treatment facilities.
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Q. I’m a small operation in the western Lake Erie basin, and may need more time to comply.
A. The law allows small and medium agricultural operations to apply for a temporary exemption from the restrictions on fertilizer and manure application.
The chief of the division of soil and water resources may grant an exemption of up to one year for a medium-size agricultural operation, and up to two years for a small operation, if the operation is working toward compliance.
The law defines small and medium agricultural operations in the same way as the Livestock Environmental Permitting program, based on the number of livestock according to species.
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Q. What about the really big farms, the certified animal feeding operations?
A. Those farms receive certain exemptions, because they’re already complying with rules that are the same or more stringent than those in S.B. 1.
However, the new law does require that anyone applying manure from such an operation, to more than 50 acres, be issued a livestock manager certification, or be approved by the Ohio director of agriculture.
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Q. What happens if a violation occurs?
A. After the law becomes effective, a farmer in violation could face a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation. However, the person in violation must first be afforded an opportunity for an adjudication hearing.
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Q. What about exceptions?
A. Farmers are exempt from the prohibitions if they apply manure or fertilizer by injecting it into the ground or incorporating it within 24 hours of surface application, or if they apply to a growing crop.
More articles on the water quality bill:
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