You may recall that earlier this year three state agencies floated a proposed bill to address agriculture’s perceived part in combating the contamination of Ohio’s freshwater resources with too much phosphorous and other materials that lead to toxic algal blooms in areas like the western basin of Lake Erie.
The draft legislative language was created by the Ohio Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Ohio EPA after Gov. John Kasich requested them to form the Directors’ Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group. Previously this year Director Jim Zehringer (ODNR), Director Scott Nally (OEPA) and Director David Daniels (ODA) circulated the second version of their proposed bill for comment from various environmental and agricultural stakeholders around the state. You may read OFU President Roger Wise’s response to that request here.
Stakeholders were put on notice regarding impending legislative action once again earlier this month. In an informal hearing in the Senate Agriculture Committee, Chairman Cliff Hite (R-Findlay) and members heard proponent testimony from the three directors in anticipation of what Hite said would be formal bills in the House and Senate regarding farming nutrient management in the fall.
[UPDATE – June 30 S.B. 150 has been introduced by Senators Cliff Hite and Bob Peterson.]
“Over the course of the past year and into the foreseeable future, agricultural nutrient management will be the number one priority for the (Soil and Water Resources) Division, and one of the top priorities of the department,” Zerhinger said at the June 11 hearing.
Zerhinger acknowledged that there is nothing the state or farmers can do that will immediately solve the problem of the harmful Lake Erie algal blooms. He also noted that, “It is important to note that the loading of dissolved phosphorous into Lake Erie’s tributaries from agricultural sources is not an intentional act by farmers in the watershed.”
However, the three directors and experts from across the environmental and agricultural fields acknowledge agricultural runoff is one of the sources of Lake Erie’s woes and that in Zerhinger’s words, “It is our duty to balance the health of Lake Erie and the profitability of our state’s agriculture.”
The trio are specifically offering these initial recommendations for improving on the farm practices:
- Taking frequent soil samples and following soil nutrient rates based on guidelines established by Ohio State University
- Not spreading nutrients on frozen or snow-covered ground
- Encouraging nutrient management plans
- Incorporating nutrients into the soil
ODA’s Daniels added that his department has been working on language for a bill that would see ODA develop a “fertilizer application certification program” and collect detailed data from fertilizer distributors and retailers.
Read the three directors’ written testimony here.
Since the informal hearing a third version of the draft legislation has been released by Hite’s office reflecting the testimony given by the three directors.
Where things stand
Hite has signaled that what is now draft legislation (or something very similar) will be introduced in the Senate by the fall with himself and Ag Committee member Sen. Bob Peterson (R-Sabina) as co-sponsors. Rep. Jim Buchy, (R-Greenville) is expected to sponsor companion legislation in the House. Conspicuously missing from testimony, draft bills and other comments from state leaders thus far are serious mentions of manure and its role in agricultural runoff. This will surely surface as an issue later this year as the debate goes from draft bill to actual bill and informational hearings to actual committee consideration of proposed legislation.
Stay tuned. Just as we finish our number one legislative priority – upgrading the grain indemnity law – OFU will be asking for member comments, testimony and action as the General Assembly considers nutrient management in the coming months.