Merits of farm program questioned

Larry Limpf

Some environmental activists are claiming that Ohio taxpayers are funding an agricultural program that could actually worsen harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.
Vicki Askins, a Wood County resident and member of Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, is questioning provisions of the Ohio Working Lands Small Grains Program – a voluntary program that offers incentives to growers in the Western Lake Erie Basin Watershed to plant grains on eligible land.
The program is part of a bill passed last year in the state legislature to fund projects to benefit the lake by reducing runoff.
Under the program, growers can receive up to $75 per acre to apply manure to their fields after the harvest of small grain crops such as wheat, barley, oats, cereal rye, spelt or trictale. A cover crop must be planted following the manure application.
The soil benefits from the planting of small grains and cover crops, according to the Soil and Water Conservation District, which administers the program, Also, expanding the time to apply manure and nutrients can lower the risk of runoff.
Askins and other activists are critical of the amounts of manure being applied under the program, saying it can be as much as five times more than the recommended agronomic rate of 15 part per million of phosphorus. That figure comes from research by The Ohio State University, she said last week.
Shelby Croft, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said the amounts of manure meet U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations.
“All manure applied as part of the Ohio Working Lands Small Grains Program is required to meet USDA standards for nutrient applications,” she said.
The second round of funding for the program began last month. During the first sign-up period, about 39,226 acres were enrolled in the program.
Askins voiced her concerns during a SWCD meeting last month for growers in Rudolph.
Citing a 2018 report by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, she also notes that agriculture contributes about 88 percent of the excess phosphorus in the Maumee watershed flowing into the Lake.
“Now the ODA wants to increase that amount and even worse, have taxpayers pay for it,” she said.
Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie has argued for years that operations of large-scale factory livestock farms are behind much the problem with phosphorus run-off.
Senate Bill 299, passed in 2018, provided about $23.5 million for soil and water conservation districts in the Western Lake Erie Basin for nutrient management programs.
In addition to the small grains program, the funding covers the Ohio Working Lands Hay Buffer Program, which encourages growers in the basin to establish year-round vegetative cover on eligible cropland.
During the first registration, 4.075 acres were enrolled.


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