LIMA — Several Ohio farming organizations, including the Ohio Soybean Council and the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association, are joining together to conduct a long-term study on farm runoff and phosphorus levels.
While phosphorus is needed to help crops grow, the nutrient can become a problem when runoff ends up in bodies of water, causing issues like harmful algae blooms. Grand Lake St. Marys may come to mind.
Many Ohio farming organizations are participating in a $2 million study over three years statewide to determine how much phosphorus runoff comes from farms and how to best solve the issue. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and The Ohio State University will analyze the findings.
“We do know some things today that a farmer can do … to keep the nutrients on the land,” said Kirk Merritt, Ohio Soybean Council executive director.
However, they want to become better at doing that by measuring how much runoff is a factor and how that can be prevented.
Terry McClure, a fifth generation farmer in Paulding and Van Wert counties, is one of many farmers participating in the study. Equipment at the edge of his farm will collect runoff and analyze phosphorus levels; another part of the study is taking land samples on different areas of the farm over time. There are already many things McClure does to keep runoff levels down: He tills only once every four years, plants cover crops during non-growing seasons and grows grass strips and digs ditches along the edge of the property. He also uses less phosphorus than he did a decade ago.
He thinks the study will show improvements can be make with tweaks — little things that make up to be a big difference.
“This is a fight that will be won with 1,000 little changes,” McClure said. “There’s a silver bullet that people are looking for, and maybe there will be one. But I suspect this will be a lot of small adjustments to our systems and the way we do things, and maybe even the products that we’re choosing to use that will win the game.”
The study is about six months in the making so far, and Merritt said the instruments can be used beyond the three-year testing period.
“The expectation is, along the way, we will get information that will be useful, but the whole project is three years. We have to go through a couple rotations on the crops,” Merritt said.
Another thing he wanted to stress is that solutions are dependent upon many factors, like the soil being used, the slope of the land and the terrain. From there, an online resource will be created for farmers to use.
McClure is happy the tests are being done. He supports any way the farm can be preserved and kept up to speed for future generations. But he also understands the tests and research is going to take time.
“The last thing we want to do is ready, shoot, aim,” he said. “What our worst fear would be would be forced change and it not be the right forced change. And that’s an understandable fear. We’re doing the best to move this research along as fast as we can to help that.”