Ohio farmers union calls for targeted state action on algal blooms

Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan said today that Ohio agriculture can and should be a part of fixing Lake Erie’s harmful algal blooms (HAB) and outlined several policy positions OFU may take to state legislators later this year and into the next General Assembly.

“The information we have to work with today tells us that the there is a problem in the Lake Erie watershed, but not the specific sources or locations. There’s a hole in the data; we need to fill that hole,” Logan said.

House Agriculture Chairman Dave Hall told Hannah News last week that his committee will continue to pursue H.B. 490 in the lame duck session of the legislature after the elections. The bill in its current form is supported by OFU due to water quality and safety measures related to the handling of wastewater from Ohio’s growing fracking industry.

The bill also includes some ag provisions including moving the state’s agricultural pollution abatement program – which focuses on livestock farming – from the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources to the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture. Logan said H.B. 490 could be an important part of Ohio’s effort to control nutrient runoff and the algal blooms they can feed.

OFU will ask Hall’s committee for an amendment to H.B. 490 that would do two things. First, for ODA to establish procedures for all operators of confined animal feeding operations or their third party distribution contractors to report the amount of manure delivered to other persons and the location to which it was delivered. This is to address a so-called ‘manure loophole’ in state regulations where manure distribution from a regulated location is outsourced, stretching the chain of accountability to the breaking point.

Second, OFU will ask House Ag to write into law the ability for soil and water conservation districts and other agencies to share data or information included within nutrient management plans for the purpose of developing regional or watershed pollution abatement strategies while ensuring there is no disclosure of proprietary or sensitive information.

“Going into our “Farmers Seeking Solutions” forum earlier this week, OFU said that any right-minded policy position must come from facts and science,” Logan said.

“Dr. Reutter and others have demonstrated to us that farmers do have a role to play in the Lake Erie watershed. Our forum also uncovered that there are gaps in the science.”

Logan refers to Dr. Jeffrey Reutter, director of Ohio Sea Grant and a professor with Ohio State University. Reutter’s career has focused on research related to Lake Erie since his graduate student days at Ohio State and he is considered one of the foremost authorities on the watershed’s ecology.

Reutter laid out his case that a 40 percent reduction in phosphorous entering Lake Erie would be required to reduce current problem with annual HABs. He said that research leads him to believe agriculture is responsible for about two-thirds of the problem in the Western Lake Erie Watershed. The lake’s shallow depth and the increasing intensity of storms add to the challenges for a watershed that lies amid more than 4 million acres of productive agricultural land.

Reutter also told a crowd of farmers and Toledo-area residents that municipal wastewater treatment systems, aging septic systems and residential lawn care were other areas where phosphorous use should be cut by 40 percent.

In an answer to a farmer’s question from the audience, Reutter could not be specific about the break down of phosphorous and other nutrient runoff between row crop agriculture and livestock farming.

There is a concentration of animal feeding operations around the watershed, but data does not currently exist related to breaking out what phosphorous may be animal in origin versus that from chemical fertilizer.

OFU is seeking increased monitoring to determine the nutrient source locations, coupled with enhanced voluntary conservation and targeted regulatory action where needed.


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