Thursday, June 04, 2015

Unlikely partnerships forming in Ohio and Michigan to combat harmful algae in Great Lakes

The fight to rid the Great Lakes of phosphorus runoff blamed for harmful algae growth has created a partnership between "Ohio and Michigan farmers—the parties who’ve shouldered the blame for the algae blooms—to control the source of the contamination and prevent another water crisis from happening this summer," reports Agri-Pulse. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration photo: Harmful algae on the shore of Catawaba Island, Ohio)

Last August toxic algae took the blame for Toledo losing its drinking water for two days. In response, Ohio officials passed a measure requiring farmers to get fertilizer licenses, but some fear the law has a loophole that benefits large manure users. The Great Lakes Commission said in September 2014 that it wants to reduce phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie by 40 percent.

Jay Martin, a faculty member at Ohio State Univeristy, "told a 'Toledo Water Crisis' forum audience last week that farmers, universities and city officials were working together to minimize the nutrient load responsible for feeding the toxic algae from reaching Lake Erie," Agri-Pulse reports.

"These public private collaborations might seem unusual because of the tendency among some stakeholders to assign blame for the conditions," Agri-Pulse says. "But Jack Fisher, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau, says farmers have long accepted part of the responsibility. He said it's no longer time to point fingers but to "figure out what needs to be done and work together."

Terry McClure, vice chair of the Ohio Soybean Council board, said farmers in Ohio "have 'started with the basics,' employing conservation practices like buffer strips and nutrient management plans, and are doing their part to understand exactly how much nutrient is escaping their fields by participating in university-led field edge studies."

McClure also told Agri-Pulse, “We have 32 sites across the state of Ohio that are doing true field edge testing, surface and sub-surface water concurrently, to understand 24/7/365 exactly what’s leaving that farm. From an ag perspective, it’s an all-hands-on-deck issue. So once you recognize you’re a part of the problem—and we can argue if we’re 30, 40, 50 percent [of the problem]—[but even] if you’re 30 percent of the problem, you need to be a part of the solution."

A second unlikely couple in southeast Michigan—"an agribusiness group and The Nature Conservancy—have teamed up to prevent farm-sourced nutrient and sediment pollution from ending up in Lake Huron, another of the Great Lakes," Agri-Pulse reports. They "enlsted the help of Michigan State University, which runs the Institute for Water Research that developed the Great Lakes Watershed Management System."

Conservation ambassadors will use the system to identify the fields that are particularly vulnerable to sediment and nutrient runoff based on the individual parcel’s soil composition, slope, crop rotation and other management practices," Agri-Pulse reports. "The tool also allows the user to model how the ecological benefit of different types of conservation practices—for instance cover crops, no-till or reduced till and buffer strips—will have on a specific plot of land, across a farm or even on a landscape-scale." Agri-Pulse is subscription-only but offers a four-week free trial.

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