Ag runoff rule would affect region farmers

Taken from the Lima News on 2/4/2019
By Mackenzi Klemann – mklemann@limanews.com

Allen County Commissioner Jay Begg and Beth Seibert, stormwater and watershed programs coordinator for the Allen Soil and Water Conservation District, discuss a 2018 executive order that could affect some 7,000 farms in western Ohio.

Allen County Commissioner Jay Begg and Beth Seibert, storm-water and watershed programs coordinator for the Allen Soil and Water Conservation District, discuss a 2018 executive order that could affect some 7,000 farms in western Ohio.

LIMA — An executive order from former Ohio Gov. John Kasich could affect some 7,000 farms in northwest Ohio that make up the western basin of Lake Erie, part of an effort to reduce phosphorus runoff believed to cause harmful algal blooms forming in Lake Erie.

The rule, the details of which are still being negotiated, would designate the eight watersheds in the western basin of Lake Erie as “distressed,” which would then require the Ohio Department of Agriculture to develop nutrient management rules for farmers in the affected watersheds, according to Beth Seibert, stormwater and watershed programs coordinator for the Allen Soil and Water Conservation District.

Seibert estimated that complying with this order within one year would take 350 staffers. She and Allen County Commissioner Jay Begg explained the rule and its potential effect on the region during a recent Rotary Club meeting in Lima.

“There’s no easy fix, partly because we don’t understand or know what really all is causing the issues and how the environment, mother nature, the climate affects it,” Begg said. “… I think the agricultural community understands that our nutrients are leaving our fields, ending up in Lake Erie and feeding this bloom, so how do we filter it, stop it from leaving — those are things we’re working on.”

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) form when colonies of algae become toxic, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). HABs have formed in many bodies of water, including the Great Lakes. These blooms are sometimes linked to “overfeeding,” when nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen feed into waterways. Agricultural runoff is one source of these nutrients.

“Agriculture is under much pressure in Ohio to fix the HAB problem — as the perception is that they are the culprit,” Seibert said.

She pointed to several legislative efforts within the last decade focused on the issue:

  • A 2014 law requiring Ohio farmers with more than 50 acres to be certified in fertilizer application
  • A 2015 law restricting farmers in the western basin of Lake Erie “from applying manure or fertilizer on frozen and saturated soil conditions and requiring them to monitor and document precipitation forecasts prior to surface applications.”
  • A 2015 agreement with Michigan and Ontario to reduce phosphorus runoff into Lake Erie by 40 percent by 2025.

Kasich’s executive order was intended to build upon these previous efforts.

“I think part of what is frustrating is, if former Gov. Kasich thought he could just say, ‘This is a problem, fix it,’” Begg said. “If we knew how to fix it, you could do that even if it came at a great cost. We don’t know how to fix it. We know the costs are going to be great, so if we’re going to spends millions and millions of dollars … to fix this problem we’ve got to make sure that what we’re doing is cost effective, that it ends up with the right result not just throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks.

“So that’s what the agricultural community really wants to know.”

Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.

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