PERRYSBURG – Verification of new farming practices was part of Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda’s address to the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments 2020 General Assembly on Monday at the Hilton Garden Inn at Levis Commons.
“Farmers will receive the H2Ohio funds only after they’ve shown proof that they have implemented the practices for which they’ve signed up,” Pelanda said. “We’ve set acreage goals for each of these 14 counties. If we meet these goals we will be making significant progress toward improving water quality in Lake Erie.”
Gov. Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio funding of $30 million was announced Jan. 15 for Ohio farmers in 14 counties, including Wood, beginning next month. It is part of an $85 million package provided by the Ohio General Assembly for H2Ohio in the first year of the biennium.
The governor’s website states that the H2Ohio plan is designed to reduce agricultural phosphorus runoff and prevent algal blooms in Lake Erie, but it will go further than that.
Algal blooms can contaminate water for people and animals with toxins that are harmful for both drinking and bathing.
The remaining first-year funds will focus on reducing phosphorus runoff through restructuring and creation of wetlands, as well as improving water quality by preventing lead contamination and addressing failing septic systems.
“I am highly encouraged by the number of farmers who have expressed interest in this program,” Pelanda said. “We’ve seen sign-ups exceed what our anticipated targets were by almost five-fold.”
H2Ohio will fund investments in 10 scientifically proven interventions to reduce nutrient runoff from agriculture:
• Nutrient management
• Sub-surface nutrient application
• Manure incorporation
• Conservation crop rotation
• Cover crops
• Drainage water management
Farmers may apply for one, or more, interventions.
Pelanda addressed manure application issues, which she called one of the most controversial subjects.
“Manure can be applied at only 50 parts per million in order for a farmer to receive H2Ohio funding,” Pelanda said.
Applications could be made at a higher level, but those facilities would not qualify for funding.
Pelanda said the H2Ohio phosphorus reduction plan will focus first on reducing runoff into the Maumee River Watershed and Lake Erie but will eventually be offered to other parts of the state, with hopes of applicability to all of Ohio.
H2Ohio is a partnership between the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Lake Erie Commission and a broad coalition of agriculture, education, research, conservation and environmental partners.
This year, TMACOG has expanded further into work with farmers with a new agricultural committee.
“This spring we witnessed a disastrous planting season and we learned how that affects farmers for the next year and years to come,” Mark Stahl, TMACOG board chairman, said in his introduction.
Tim Brown, TMACOG executive director, said that scientific evidence shows 80-88% of the nutrients that are causing algae come from agriculture.
“We know that we need to not point a finger at the ag industry. We have developed the heck out of our country and farmers have less acreage upon which to grow more food that is affordable for everyone in America. So we can’t beat them up, but we need them at our table, so we can understand their challenges and they can understand our challenges in providing clean and safe drinking water to our citizens,” Brown said.
Several questions followed, specifically asking about how the state is addressing waste with the increasing number of animal feeding operations.
Pelanda said that new facility permits from the department of agriculture will not be subject to the 50 ppm maximum of phosphorus.
“I’m very concerned about the additional facilities,“Sandy Bihn, executive director of Lake Erie Waterkeeper, said. “If the commercial fertilizer phosphorus applications have gone down why is the lake (Lake Erie) still the way it is? My answer would be that we have increased the number of animals and increased the amount of manure coming in.”
Farmers will be eligible to apply for funds at their local Soil and Water Conservation Districts starting on Feb. 1: Wood, Allen, Auglaize, Defiance, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Lucas, Mercer, Paulding, Putnam, Van Wert and Williams.
The department of agriculture is also working on additional programs with private agriculturally businesses to help farmers. The example Pelanda gave was a possible lend/lease program with corporations like Cargill and the Andersons.
For more information on the H2Ohio plan, visit http://h2.ohio.gov.