Farmers should consider voluntarily using new technology and land practices to reduce nutrient loads and help curtail worsening algal blooms, said Kevin Elder of Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Elder, the state's livestock environmental permitting chief and member of ODA's Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group, spoke during the Sandusky River Watershed Coalition's annual meeting Wednesday at Mohawk Community Center.
"If it continues to get worse there's going to be a political reaction and maybe laws requiring regulations," he said.
Increasing public awareness about water quality means agriculture must work on its issues proactively and with a uniform message. That's one reason the working group was formed. "Farmers met the phosphorous goals set in the 1970s," he said. "Now the issues have changed for total phosphorous and dissolved phosphorous.
"Farmers must be aware of the issues and find the best way to implement solutions," he said. "Farmers are good at adapting if they know the issues.
That's why the working group is comprised of representatives from commodity groups, agriculture organizations, watershed groups, farmers, agency at all levels and universities.
"We at a state level much like what you're doing at the watershed level," he said.
"The goal is to present agriculture recommendations to the governor by Feb. 1," Elder said. "We're not going to have all the answers. We're going to recommend on what we know at the moment."
Elder told coalition members about the working group's research so far. He said data collected by Heidelberg University's National Center for Water Quality Research have been valuable.
Research focuses on nutrient levels that begin to cause problems and determining what needs to be done.
"Soil testing is one of the keys we need to understand," Elder said. He said farmers also must be able to read results and implement them accurately.
Elder recommended farmers test soils for nutrients at various depths and take measures to use only the amount needed for a crop, put buffer strips and filter strips in place along streams, use advanced technology as much as possible to determine where nutrients are needed, participate in research to test new technology, and offers ideas on how the nutrient problems can be improved.
The membership approved accepting two grants, mainly for projects in Wyandot County - a $383,369 Great Lakes Restoration grant and an $828,126 Great Lakes Soil Improvement and Sediment Control grant.
Brookes presented awards for participating in storm water management efforts to Tiffin and Fremont. Other awards went to agricultural retailers who helped fund the coalition in the past year, including Eezy Gro and Heritage Cooperative, each two-year awards; and Tiffin Farmers Coop, Bascom Elevator and Supply, Diversified, S&D Applicators, The Andersons and Clary Farms LLC, each one-year awards.