WAPAKONETA — Research is underway to better detect harmful algal blooms (HABs) and reduce phosphorus runoff from the state’s agricultural fields, a primary cause of HABs which have formed in Lake Erie and elsewhere.
“The researchers aren’t saying this is easy. We know it’s difficult,” said Christopher Winslow, director of Ohio Sea Grant and Ohio State University’s Stone Lab.
Winslow spoke with the Farmer’s Alliance in Wapakoneta on Wednesday to help the region’s agricultural community better understand the source of HABs and how farmers can reduce nutrient runoff.
While agriculture is the largest source of nutrient runoff causing HABs in Lake Erie, Winslow said it’s important to eliminate HABs without significantly harming agricultural production.
“What we need is a win-win situation where we adjust the lake condition but not at the expense of jobs and revenue related to agriculture … We need to collectively work together to figure out how to reduce that source,” he said.
Current strategies include the use of cover crops and buffer strips between fields and rivers. Farmers are also “thinking hard about when they put fertilizer on” so that nutrients aren’t carried away in heavy rains, Winslow said.
But there are costs associated with each of these strategies, and Winslow said most farmers are hesitant to invest in new equipment because of financial constraints and skepticism.
“We need to understand the science behind that. If I’m going to come to you as a producer and say you need to do X, you better know that X is going to work or you’re just not going to do it,” he said. “A lot of the research going on right now is the efficiency or the efficacy of best management practices.”
Agricultural runoff is not the only source contributing to HABs in Lake Erie. Wastewater treatment plants, septic tanks, lawn fertilizers and other sources are also contributing, and Winslow said it’s important that any efforts to reduce phosphorous runoff include non-agricultural sources.
Winslow described finding a solution to agricultural runoff is a “heavy lift,” one that is different than simply understanding how HABs develop and their health risks, two other lines of research currently underway.
“We know that we need to clean the water today,” Winslow said. “We need to know the impacts today … those are somewhat easier questions to answer.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.