PERRYSBURG — Area farmers can be paid for taking part in a series of best practices to ensure safe and clean water for all Ohioans.
The H2Ohio initiative was explained Tuesday to farmers representing Fulton, Lucas, Ottawa and Wood counties, among others. Payments are available to farmers in the 14 counties in the Maumee River watershed.
Dorothy Pelanda, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said that H2Ohio will be implemented to address water quality across the state. Locally, the concern is the continued algae bloom on Lake Erie has been caused by fertilizer and manure runoff.
Kris Swartz, with the Wood County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors, is a representative on the Ohio Agriculture Conservation Initiative, which is made up of agriculture, conservation and environmental groups.
“We know that if water quality does not improve, the results for us in the ag community aren’t going to be real positive,” he said.
OACI was formed to assess farm practices in Ohio to better understand on-farm conservation and nutrient management efforts, and to create a voluntary certification program for farmers to increase adoption of best practices to improve water quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
OACI will work with the H2Ohio program to ensure funds get to farmers who demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement by implementing science-based practices.
Terry Mescher, H2Ohio program coordinator with ODA’s Division of Soil and Water Conservation, said there is $172 million being budgeted by the state this year.
Budget for water quality programming is $8.675 million to the Ohio EPA; $46.2 million to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources; $30.3 million to the ODA; and $86.8 million remaining unallocated that will go to departments if they expend their funds.
ODA has drafted the best practices and set criteria for the incentive payments. Payments range from $2 per acre for developing a voluntary nutrient management plan, to $60 per acre for manure application that meets state standards.
Best practices also include variable rate phosphorus application, subsurface phosphorus placement, small grains and forage crop rotation, overwintering cover crops and drainage management.
It will be a la carte, with farmers picking which ones they want to participate in.
“The landowner can pick and choose the practices that they want to employ on a field by field or farm by farm basis,” Mescher said.
Participants will be eligible to sign up for up to four years of funding. A farmer must have a voluntary nutrient management plan and is required to set up a farmer profile at www.OhioACI.org to receive funding.
There will be a two-month sign up window; roll-out for the program began Monday.
Jim Carter, district administrator with the Wood County Soil and Water Conservation District, said he prefers people to call his office to set up an appointment in order to sign up for the program,
Jordan Hoewischer, director of water quality and research with the Ohio Farm Bureau, said OACI is a voluntary program that helps identify what farmers are doing on their farm.
The public side, with H2Ohio, will provide the funding. The private side, with OACI, has the environmental and conservation groups coming together to support the program, Hoewischer said.
The information will show what farmers are doing for water quality.
“You guys have heard everything under the sun on how people have judged you as producers. Now, this is your time to be accurately judged,” he said.
Voluntary conservation is being challenged as to whether it is effective, said Mark Smith, with the Natural Resources Conservation Services.
“You’ve got a huge responsibility laid out before you. … The state is looking to you and what you do with this because it’s going to shape voluntary conservation for the state of Ohio and across the country.
“If everyone in this room continues to do what they’ve been doing, the results are going to be the same,” Smith said. “Everybody is looking.”
One concern was farmers did not have the equipment to put phosphorus on their fields. That has been recognized as a concern, and low-interest loans are being considered so farmers can invest in that equipment.
Answers to questions included for the phosphorus placement program, it must be put directly into the ground, so tilling after that would not disqualify it from the program. Cover crops must be seeded by Oct. 15. Wheat can be used as a cover crop as long as it is not used for grain.
Lee Sundermeier, with the Wood County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors, said farming has changed with the times and will continue to change.
“The world looks to this part of the country – the corn belt. We have to produce the food to feed the world. This situation we’ve got on Lake Erie, I believe, with other technology … we will find a way to incorporate fertilizer the way it should be done.”
He urged everyone to take the steps voluntarily, rather than be required to do so.
Ohio Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg, said agriculture is part of the DNA of “who we are in Wood County.”
The overwhelming attendance underscores the importance of what is being done at the state level to make sure farmers can be part of the solution, he said.
There were an estimated 200 people in attendance in the auditorium at Veterans Hall on the Owens Community College campus. Tuesday’s meeting was the first of eight set throughout Northwest Ohio.
The event was part of the continual dialogue with farmers, who were appreciative the state was working to help them implement the practices that have been studied, Ghanbari said.
“We finally need to begin to put those best practices into use. The farmers want to be part of that solution,” he said.