Saturday, Jul 23, 2016
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Ohio farmers leadingthe fight for clean water

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Herringshaw

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I have grown corn, soybeans, and wheat in Wood County for 36 years. I try to farm in ways that least affect our environment. I do so voluntarily, as do many other farmers throughout Ohio. Clean lakes and streams are important to everyone — especially farmers.

I am taking part in the Healthy Lake Erie program by installing a drainage-control system that will allow more nutrients to be absorbed into the soil, rather than leaving my fields. I follow a nutrient-management plan, customized to the soil types, crop rotations, water flow, and nutrient needs of my fields, further reducing the need for fertilizer application.

I am not the only Ohio farmer who does this. Most farmers maintain similar plans.

Concern for Ohio’s water quality includes the issue of nutrients, such as phosphorous from farmland, that enter waterways. Farmers are committed to doing our part to improve the state’s waterways, but many sources of pollution are beyond our control, such as private septic systems, waste from failed sewer systems, and urban storm runoff.

Exactly how nutrients get into Ohio waterways is largely unknown. Research is critical to monitor the volume of nutrients that enter waterways and to identify the practices that keep nutrients on farm fields.

Several Ohio agricultural organizations — including the Ohio Soybean Council, Ohio Small Grains Marketing Program, and Ohio Corn Marketing Program — have invested more than $1 million to conduct on-farm, edge-of-field testing in partnership with Ohio State University, OSU Extension, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research service. The department is matching our $1 million investment.

This research is monitoring water from the edge of fields, surface runoff, and subsurface drainage. Nearly two dozen installations are at watersheds throughout the state, including the Maumee River, the Upper Scioto River, and Grand Lake St. Marys.

The research findings will identify and rank farming practices that are most effective in keeping nutrients on the field. That will help farmers reduce nutrient runoff and improve Ohio’s waterways.

While research defines issues and leads to solutions, most Ohio farmers are not sitting idly by. New technological advances allow us to minimize nutrient runoff by applying the right source of fertilizer at the right time, in the right place, with the right amount.

It isn’t a choice between caring for the environment and producing a good food crop. With the right farming practices, we can achieve both goals.

Farmers are using less phosphorus today than they did in the past several decades. Since the 1980s, Ohio farmers have produced more corn using 32 percent less nutrients per bushel, on 17 percent less land.

Farmers have a huge financial incentive to minimize the use of nutrients. The average cost of fertilizer for my farm is nearly $100,000 a year.

Today’s water quality issues present us with new challenges, but they did not become problems overnight. Ohio successfully solved similar issues with phosphorus in the 1970s, as farmers voluntarily improved how they farmed their land. Farmers have led the charge for water improvement before, and we will do so again.

I share a passion for the land with all other farmers. We are continuously improving our practices to reduce the impact of farming on waterways.

We are determined to meet and solve this issue head-on, because we are committed to leading the improvement of Ohio waterways.

Paul Herringshaw is a farmer in Bowling Green.

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