Lake Erie Water Quality Update 9/25
To: Our Jerusalem Township Residents
From: Mark Sattler, Trustee
On September 9, 2019, I attended a Toledo Metropolitan Area Council Of Governments (TMACOG) Water Quality Council day-long tour of the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network.
This demonstration project is a partnership with the Ohio Farm Bureau, other organizations, and private farmers who are interested in developing and testing new methods of farming that will help reduce the nutrient loading that is harming Lake Erie and contributing to the algal bloom.
Our farmers are incredibly important to all of us because they produce the food we all depend upon. Farming methods have advanced over the years allowing farmers to produce more food to feed our growing population.
We visited three different demonstration sites:
- Kurt Farms – 470-acre farm
- Kellogg Farms – 5,000-acre farm
- Stateler Farms – 7,200 head swine operation and 600-acre farm
These farms are all working to use best practices to reduce the runoff of nutrients into our watershed and keep the nutrients in the fields to improve their crop yield (which also improves the profitability of their farm operation).
What we learned from this tour was that developing a good Conservation Plan is important. The local Farm Bureau can assist the farmer with the development of a multi-year conservation plan to minimize the amount of fertilizer used while maximizing the crop yield. We also learned that key concepts for reducing farm nutrient loss involve the “4R’s”:
- Right source: Use the right nutrient source for the planned crop
- Right rate: Test the soil and apply only the proper amount of nutrients missing in the soil for the planned crop
- Right Time: Apply the nutrients just before planting or over the Summer to reduce nutrient runoff
- Right place: Apply the nutrients in the soil, not on top in order to reduce nutrient runoff
The following practices help with different aspects of following the 4R’s.
- Sub-surface nutrient application: Nutrients (fertilizer) should either be injected (requires expensive equipment) or tilled under the surface of the soil after being applied. This prevents these nutrients from running off with rainwater.
- Zone or Grid soil testing: This technique involves mapping out the farm fields and testing each section to determine the nutrients needed for the crop to be planted. Then the farmer can apply only the amount of nutient needed to each section. Not only does this practice prevent over-application of fertilizer, it saves the farmer money on fertilizer cost.
- Cover Crops: Planting a cover crop will help to temporarily protect the farm ground from wind and water erosion. This practice also adds organic matter to the soil and helps hold nutrients in the soil for next season’s planting.
- No-till: No-till farming is the process of not disturbing the soil with tillage equipment. This keeps organic material in the soil, reducing erosion and improving soil health. However, nutrient fertilizer should be injected or applied with strip tillage to minimize soil disturbance.
- Drainage Water Management: Use of drainage control structures to keep water (and dissolved nutrients) in the field and under the surface at those times when the farm equipment does not need to be in the field. Prior to planting and harvesting, the retained water is allowed to drain. At other times, the retained water is available to the crop roots, resulting in larger yields and less nutrient runoff.
- Edge of Field Monitoring: This involves measuring the nutrient load contained in the water that drains off the surface and through the tiling of the field in order to measure the nutrient losses. These measurements help agricultural researchers learn and develop new, more efficient practices.
- Two Stage Ditches: This practice involves cutting ditches with a cross-section that looks like a bench: \_ _/ Vegetation is allowed to grow on the bench “seat”.
When water levels are high, the foliage on the bench seat slows down the flow of water, allowing the nutrients to sink down and feed the foliage rather than flow freely and empty into the waterways and Lake Erie.
In conclusion, farming techniques have advanced considerably through scientific research. New tools allow farmers to be much more precise, applying only the necessary amount of nutrients. Following these new techniques could significantly reduce the amount of nutrient runoff reaching our waterways. We will see benefits as more farmers choose to adopt these techniques to reduce nutrient runoff. However, it is important to remember that it make take years of such careful farm techniques before we see a significant reduction in harmful algal blooms because of the large quantity of nutrients that have already reached Lake Erie.
Our farmers deserve our thanks, our support, and our encouragement. They grow the food we all depend upon for nourishment. They are also struggling to adopt new techniques (some of which require upfront investment) in order to reduce nutrient runoff and improve their crop yields.