DELPHOS — A new voluntary conservation program will pay farmers to implement nutrient management and erosion control practices, part of Gov. Mike DeWine’s strategy to improve water quality in Lake Erie.
The new program, H2Ohio, will focus on 14 northwest Ohio counties that form the majority of the Maumee River watershed in its first year. More than $30 million in funding is available to farmers who adopt pre-approved conservation practices, like rotating conservation crops or planting cover crops after the main harvest to prevent nutrient runoff, a key contributor to the growth of algae blooms in Lake Erie.
“Voluntary conservation is key here,” said Dorothy Pelanta, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, who met with farmers in Delphos on Wednesday to discuss H2Ohio.
H2Ohio has set acreage goals for each of the 14 participating counties to measure the program’s effectiveness in its first year. Acreage goals vary by county, depending on geography, topography and types of agriculture practiced in each community, Pelanta explained.
“Next year, we may not see a significant difference in how Lake Erie looks,” Pelanta said, “but by measuring the number of acres, the number of farmers that have signed up for these programs, that’s a statement to the world that we believe in this.”
The Ohio Department of Agriculture is partnering with local Soil and Water Conservation Districts in the rollout of H2Ohio, which coincides with the Ohio Agriculture Conservation Initiative, another voluntary nutrient management certification program similarly designed to encourage farmers to adopt new standards to improve water quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
The Ohio Legislature has approved $172 million in funding for H2Ohio over the next two years, with more funding anticipated if the program is successful.
“We can do this without regulations,” said Craig Pohlman, a corn and soybean farmer in Venedocia and trustee with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation who attended Wednesday’s meeting.
Pohlman was one of several attendees Wednesday to applaud the DeWine administration for making the program voluntary. But that optimism comes with a cautionary note: if farmers don’t adopt conservation practices voluntarily — and with financial support from the state — they may face more regulatory scrutiny in future administrations.
Funding will be available to farmers in Allen, Auglaize, Defiance, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Lucas, Mercer, Paulding, Putnam, Van Wert, Williams and Wood counties.
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.