COLUMBUS — The Ohio House of Representative unanimously approved the state’s water quality and ag nutrients bill (S.B. 150) on April 9.
The bill requires farmers who apply fertilizer to 50 or more acres to be certified by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, and makes various amendments related to protecting water quality and keeping farm nutrients in fields.
Ohio Rep. Dave Hall, R-Millersburg, in his floor testimony before the bill’s passage, called it “a solid bill” and one that “has balance.”
The bill was formed and amended with insight by most of the state’s farm organizations, as well as farmers statewide, who met with lawmakers and state agencies over the course of two-three years to discuss what should be done
The bill and the certification requirement are seen as ways of reducing the amount of nutrient loading into Lake Erie and inland water bodies, which will ultimately help reduce the issue of toxic algal blooms that feed on excessive nutrients.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich plans to sign the bill into law, said Rob Nichols, the governor’s press secretary.
The Senate passed the bill unanimously Jan. 22.
Farm and Dairy watched the House vote via Ohio Channel
Sends a message
Hall said the bill “sends a message that we need to start dealing with the issue of algae.”
S.B. 150 only deals with agricultural pollution, but farmers, and state lawmakers, know there are other causes.
Rep. Michael Sheehy, D-Toledo, said the bill was “historic and needed,” and also likened it to “a baby step,” with what he hopes will be “giant steps” yet to come. Lawmakers suggested that some of the things taken out of S.B. 150 would still be part of other bills.
The Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association, and the Ohio Soybean Association both weighed in on the House action.
Brent Hostetler, OCWGA president and Madison County farmer said both organizations have “worked together through the entire process of this bill to assure that it addresses environmental needs but does not include overly burdensome requirements for Ohio family farmers.”
Going forward, both organizations will continue to emphasize to lawmakers and state agency officials the importance of “practical, science-based solutions,” he said.
Jerry Bambauer, OSA President and Auglaize County farmer, said it’s important to fully understand the challenge before implementing solutions.
“No one has a clear understanding of how exactly phosphorus is moving through the soil profile, or can explain why there are algae blooms in areas that don’t have agricultural activity near them,” he said.
Investing in research
For this reason, the Ohio Soybean Council, the Ohio Corn Marketing Program, the Ohio Small Grains Marketing Program, and many others are supporting a $2 million research project with more than $1 million coming from Ohio farmers and other agricultural companies, that will measure edge-of-field phosphorus runoff and will show how phosphorus is used in agriculture, how it leaves farm fields and how much of it is actually entering the state’s waterways.
The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation said the bill is good for the state’s water resources and for responsible farmers.
“The legislation’s reasonable approach shows that a clean environment and profitable farming can go hand in hand,” said Jack Fisher, executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau.
The final bill meets the policy goals set by Farm Bureau members, which stated that a fertilizer applicator certification program created by the state should include an educational component, be economically feasible and be a part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce all sources of nutrients.
Another part of the law provides farmers an option to employ an affirmative defense in lawsuits related to fertilizer application. This will be an incentive for farmers to create and use nutrient management plans, an action encouraged by Farm Bureau policy.
Farm Bureau, according to the release, agrees with a provision in the bill that allows quick action against proven bad actors. And the organization supports record keeping requirements that are in the public’s interest without invading farmers’ privacy.
“We had some serious concerns about early versions of the bill,” Fisher said. “Our members were very active, very vocal. They let the state agencies and lawmakers know what tools farmers need. And they pushed to avoid unintended consequences and to assure that the law would be administered in a proper way.”