FINDLAY — A Friday meeting in Findlay focused on the role of farmers in controllingphosphorous runoff that feeds the blue-green algae polluting Ohio's lakes.
“We need to take a proactive approach,” said Ed Crawford, with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “If we don’t do the job, it will be legislated.”
The meeting brought together the Ohio Farmers Union, Ohio Environmental Council, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service at the Hancock County Agriculture Center. The agencies presented voluntary measures farmers can use to manage the phosphorous runoff from their fields.
Lake Erie is the shallowest and smallest of the Great Lakes, said Joe Logan, director of agriculture programs with the Ohio Environment Council. Those factors combine with warmer temperatures to encourage blue-green algae growth. Dissolved phosphorous makes matters worse.
Logan said phosphates in Lake Erie are nearing 1970s levels, when the lake was known as the “dead zone.” Then, the sources of phosphates were Detroit city sewers and industries along the Lake Erie watershed. Programs to reduce phosphorous levels worked.
Now, he said, agricultural fertilizers and sewage treatment plants are among the chief sources of phosphates in Lake Erie.
Farmer’s Union President Roger Wise said increasing levels of dissolved phosphorous in Lake Erie's water have been tied to smelly and unsightly pollution that can emit toxins dangerous to human and animal health.
As one of its public policy priorities for 2013, the Ohio Farmer’s Union has adopted the promotion of voluntary nutrient pollution measures. Recently, 14 Ohio farm organizations sent letters to farmers about the importance of being good stewards of the land and practicing conservation methods.
“There’s more at risk than higher costs of regulation," the letter said. "Unless farmers make significant reductions in nutrient runoff, they will increasingly take the blame for phosphorus loading and toxic algae.”
Representatives from Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio Environmental Council and Natural Resource Conservation Service had some suggestions for farmers, including the four R's:
• Right fertilizer source
• Right rate
• Right time
• Right placement
Logan said various agencies, including the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, would prefer to avoid legislative action.
“But if it gets bad enough they will have to,” he said, referring to problems that led to the temporary closing of Grand Lake St. Mary’s.
The letter sent to farmers indicated government, special interest groups, the media and the public all expect farmers to help clean up the state’s water resources.
“We have to acknowledgethat agriculture is part of the problem and do our part,” Wise said. “We have to tackle this problem.”