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Published: Saturday, 1/12/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Farmers’ help sought in curbing algae blooms

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Farmers in northwest Ohio and across the state have begun receiving letters urging them to find better ways to control crop nutrient runoff, or face potential environmental regulations in the future that could dictate how they raise their crops.

The Ohio Farm Bureau, Ohio State University Extension Service, the Ohio Farmers Union, and 17 other agricultural-related groups are behind the letter campaign and a planned re-education effort to raise greater awareness among farmers about how their methods of using phosphorus and other fertilizers play a part in the growing algae blooms in Lake Erie, Grand Lake St. Marys, Buckeye Lake, and other Ohio lakes.

The algal blooms in Lake Erie, which is fed by the Maumee River, have become a growing problem. The algae bloom in 2011 contributed to a “dead zone” where fish cannot live, and state officials warned that the problem could threaten the lake’s tourism industry, valued at $10 billion.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has imposed limits and manure-management rules on farmers near Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio.

“Your recognition of this issue is all about where you live. If you farm in the St. Marys watershed basin, you’re very aware of this. If you farm in the western Lake Erie watershed, you’re somewhat in tune with it, and if you’re in southeast Ohio, you may not even be aware of this issue,” said Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau.

The 20 ag groups are sponsoring research, education, and an awareness campaign to get farmers to adopt best practices when growing their crops and a set of principles knowns as the “4R Nutrient Stewardship.” The 4Rs (right source, right rate, right time, and right place) suggest using fertilizers in a way that decreases runoff into water basins.

Mr. Cornely said the letter to farmers isn’t a threat or warning, but “more of a launching point for awareness.” If farmers can be persuaded to adopt new techniques now, there is less chance the state or federal government will step in with new regulations on fertilizer usage.

Bruce Clevenger, an agricultural agent in Defiance County for OSU’s Extension Service, taught sessions on 4Rs last year, and it was embraced, he said.

“We’re making headway. … Farmers are receiving the message and implementing the strategies,” Mr. Clevenger said. “Really, they’re not that difficult to implement and they are not costly to implement.”

Gary Baldosser, a farmer from Republic who farms in Seneca and Sandusky counties, said he found the letter persuasive.

Farmers must adopt new techniques, Mr. Baldosser said, because the algal bloom threat “is a legitimate fear,” and farming does play a role.

“There are satellite photos that confirm what’s happening,” he said. “But personally, my hope is that through all of these discussions everybody comes to the table and we have an open discussion on this issue and we don’t all start pointing fingers.”

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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