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Opinion

Changing trends in land stewardship

1/3/2013 - South Side Leader
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By Staff Writer

Guest column

As part of a fifth-generation century farm family, I can tell you with certainty that most agricultural producers understand that change is inevitable. As with all successful businesses, as times change so must production practices in agriculture.

At the Ohio Department of Agriculture, we work with farmers every day. We know that Ohio’s farmers are concerned with keeping up with the times and responsibly providing us with an abundance of food, fiber, fuel, bioproducts — the things we need every day and the engine of Ohio’s economy and job creation. We also know that it is time to rethink the way we have been used to doing things to preserve the quality of our lakes and streams, and safeguard public health.

Balancing the ideals of a thriving economy and feeding a growing population while preserving public health and environmental integrity has long been a goal of agriculturalists and environmentalists alike. Although there are skeptics, we have proven these principles can effectively co-exist. In the 1970s, when Lake Erie problems were brought into focus, the state met a goal of reducing 11,000 metric tons of phosphorus from all sources. Agriculture did its part by reducing sediment loss and the loss of the phosphorus attached to it so that, by 1985, the state achieved its goal.

That historic hurdle has now evolved into a new problem that needs to be solved. New research shows that nutrients are leaving our fields in ways we did not know were possible before in the form of dissolved phosphorous. Reducing the amount of dissolved phosphorous that makes it out of our fields and into our waterways is our newest challenge.

There are a variety of factors, here in Ohio as well as in other states and Canada, contributing to algal blooms in our lakes, and dissolved phosphorous is one of the primary culprits. Because there are several nonagricultural sources of dissolved phosphorous entering Lake Erie, it is important to note that Ohio’s agricultural industry should not be singled out as the only source. Nonetheless, land application of commercial fertilizer and livestock manure is a contributing factor.

This is a complex problem and there are still many unanswered questions. What we do know is that how we are currently farming is contributing to the problem. The good news is that Ohio farmers understand the problem and want to be part of the solution. They are stewards of the land. They care about the environment. It is the foundation of their business and their survival.

At Gov. John Kasich’s direction [in 2012], I, along with Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Nally, announced the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative. The Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative is dedicated to improving Ohio’s water quality, specifically in the Western Lake Erie Basin region, while maintaining the integrity of the region’s agricultural industry. It was established earlier this year based on recommendations from agricultural, environmental and academic representatives.

Under the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative, the state will educate and encourage farmers across the state to adopt the 4R Nutrient Stewardship model, which promotes using the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time, in the right places. Good nutrient stewardship not only benefits the environment, but it benefits the farmer by saving the money and time that could otherwise be invested in applying unnecessary or excessive fertilizer to the soil.

The state will also work with farmers through the local Soil and Water Conservation Districts to expand the use of on-the-ground practices to help control the displacement of agricultural nutrients. A total of 33,500 acres of farmland will incorporate the new nutrient management programs over the next 12 to 18 months. Target areas include the Maumee River Watershed, along with counties of Defiance, Henry, Putnam, Hancock and Wood.

We will partner with the agri-business industry to expand the frequency and type of soil testing being used and work with the legislature to develop nutrient management plans that can be developed and approved by the local Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

The initiative will also provide a means to collaborate with Ohio’s colleges and universities, research institutions and private businesses to create a monitoring network to implement and assess the effectiveness of management practices.

Change may be inevitable, but agriculture is well-versed in adapting to change. With around 74,000 farming operations and some of the best soils in the nation, it is imperative that the agricultural productivity of Ohio is maintained. Food and agriculture adds $105 billion to the state’s economy and employs one in seven people with jobs. As plans for the new growing season commence, the state is working with farmers to implement as many of these changes as possible into the new growing season.

David Daniels is director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

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