The Environmental Professionals Network (EPN) at Ohio State University held a breakfast Tuesday at the Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center to discuss water quality issues affecting Ohio agriculture. The EPN is a service of the School of Environment and Natural Resources in the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. Their goal with the breakfast was to present data on soil testing from the last four years dealing with phosphorus loss and runoff.
The issue of phosphorus runoff has been a prominent agricultural issue in Ohio as scientists have recently found high concentrations of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, likely a result of phosphorus runoff.
Part of the working solution to this issue was a demonstration of the new On-Field Project, an online tool which updates the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s conservation tool, the Ohio Phosphorus Risk Index.
Dr. Libby Dayton, a research scientist at OSU, is behind the On-Field Project which aims to give farmers a data system that will assist them in assessing the amount of potential phosphorus loss on a field-by-field basis. The escaping of phosphorus leads to sediment erosion, an issue that could be reduced by eliminating some of the soil disturbances.
“We tried to keep this as simple as possible for the farmer,” Dayton said. The site is in its early stages and, “isn’t pretty, but it’s functioning.” Dayton stressed that the process of using the site is fairly quick, simple and beneficial.
“If the farmer wants to participate in EQUIP or any of the conservation programs, having a nutrient plan is part of that. It’s mandatory. And this (project) would be part of the nutrient-management plan,” she said.
On-Field works by allowing farmers to go into the site, pick a field or a section of their fields using Google Maps and from that, see the soil survey and climate data from that particular field. Using the data information, they can then decide when the risk is higher or lower for runoff, allowing them to better control fertilizer application methods.
“You can search for a field, you can get closer to your field by town, you can put in an address, you can put in a zip code, you can put in GPS coordinates,” she said. “You can look at your own field or portions of your field.” The idea being is to get as accurate data as is possible to help farmers make those risk assessment decisions.
In addition to the On-Field demonstration, Kirk Hines, chief of the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s (ODA) Division of Soil and Water Conservation, presented information on the Ohio Stewardship Verification Program — which goes hand-in-hand with On-Field. The program is a pilot project from ODA which aims to “verify the social, environmental and economic benefits of farming with sustainable practices.” Hines said the program works to “reward the best and encourage the rest,” by tapping into the pride of agriculture.
“There’s a lot of pride out there in agriculture and we know that,” he said. “What we’re asking (farmers) to do for this pilot is to create a nutrient management program, do the record keeping, do some sort of nutrient placement and then cover crops.” The program is currently only available in Henry County and Wood County to assess the effectiveness and cost to see if it would be beneficial to extend it to all interested in participating.
Eventually, the program could be extended and offer education, encouragement and preservation with regard to the value of Ohio agriculture.
Reach Michael Williamson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619.