Some farm fields have more phosphorus than their crops need. Called elevated phosphorus fields, such fields may be at higher risk of contributing to Lake Erie’s harmful algal blooms.
That’s the premise of a new five-year study, based in northwest Ohio’s Maumee River watershed, that hopes to better understand those fields. How much phosphorus, an algal bloom-fueling nutrient, runs off of them? What are the best ways to limit that runoff while also maintaining yields?
CFAES scientist Jay Martin is leading the study, which is partnering with some of the watershed’s nutrient service providers and farmers.
Ohio State’s Ohio Sea Grant program hosts the third annual Understanding Algal Blooms: State of the Science Conference — featuring scientists’ latest findings about algal blooms, their causes and the best ways to prevent them — on Sept. 13 in Toledo. Experts from CFAES will be among the dozen or so speakers. Continue reading →
Last year’s Lake Erie algal bloom was the third-largest on record, according to scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Ohio Sea Grant, a program based at Ohio State.
So how are things looking for this summer?
On July 12, CFAES’s Stone Lab, shown here, located at Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie, will host a media briefing at which NOAA experts will announce their forecast. Get details and find links to register to attend in person and by webinar. (Photo: Lisa Rice, Ohio Sea Grant.)
The cheapest, most cost-effective way to reduce the phosphorus getting into Lake Erie is by taxing farmers on their purchase of the nutrient or by paying them not to use it on their fields. That’s according to a study by Shaohui Tang and Brent Sohngen, both of CFAES’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics.
“We’re trying to find solutions to move the health of Lake Erie in the right direction, but at the same time, keep the ag industry vibrant,” said Chris Winslow, director of Ohio State’s Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory programs, quoted in a March 16 story in the Port Clinton News Herald. He was speaking at the Ottawa Soil and Water Conservation District’s annual Agricultural Community Breakfast on March 15, and was referring to the issue of agricultural phosphorus runoff, a cause of the harmful algal blooms plaguing Lake Erie and other water bodies. Scientists with Ohio Sea Grant, CFAES, and other agencies and institutions are working to find ways to reduce that runoff.
Injecting farm fertilizer below the ground instead of spreading it on the surface could help achieve most of Lake Erie’s 40 percent phosphorus reduction goal, said CFAES scientist Margaret Kalcic in a Dec. 3 story in the Toledo Blade. The practice also would allow farmers to maintain their productivity, she said.
The reduction goal is aimed at preventing the harmful algal blooms plaguing the lake. Agricultural phosphorus runoff is considered the blooms’ main cause.
A recent Columbus Dispatch article said there’s reason to be optimistic in the battle against Lake Erie’s algal blooms. Robyn Wilson, who studies risk analysis and decision science as an associate professor in CFAES’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, was one of the experts quoted. “I don’t think we need regulation,” she said in the article. “I think farmers have gotten a bad rap. They are highly motivated to fix the problem under their own terms.” Read the article. (Photo: Lake Erie algal bloom by Tom Archer, Michigan Sea Grant.)
Ohio State scientists are developing ways to identify the many kinds of phosphorus getting into Lake Erie. To do it, they’re determining the compounds’ chemical signatures. The goal is to be able to link the compounds back to their sources — whether farm field, livestock facility, wastewater treatment plant or otherwise — and so better target efforts aimed at keeping phosphorus out of Lake Erie. Excess phosphorus is one of the causes of the harmful algal blooms plaguing Lake Erie and other lakes. CFAES’s Field to Faucet initiative is a co-funder of the research. Read Ohio Sea Grant’s press release on the work. (Photo: Western Lake Erie algal bloom, NOAA.)