Over the past couple of weeks Senate Bill 150 – the nutrient management bill that would create a licensure scheme for many farmers applying fertilizer to their fields in Ohio – has been moving through the Ohio Senate Committee on Agriculture.
S.B. 150 was actually replaced with a new or substitute bill and is now officially Sub. S.B. 150. The bill received its second hearing last week where several amendments were unanimously accepted and testimony was heard from various farm groups, the Ohio Environmental Council, municipal water managers and Lake Erie charter fishing captains.
The seven amendments added last week were for the most part technical in nature and were quickly accepted by Democrats and Republicans alike on the committee. One amendment, technically sponsored by Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, the Ag Committee chairman, was actually conceived by Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green. The amendment would make it possible for funds already appropriated and unused to the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program “to be used for purposes of that appropriation item related to open lake disposal of dredge material in Lake Erie.” Hite and Gardner said the amendment will allow the fund’s resources to be used more effectively to help deter open-lake disposal of material dredged from the Toledo shipping channel.
As for testimony by farm groups, including OFU, it was all one-sided – or shall we say ‘no-sided.’
Testimony was heard from OFU, The Ohio Soybean Association, The Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association and the Ohio Agribusiness Association. All parties testified as ‘neutral’ on the bill.
From Roger Wise, president of the Ohio Farmers Union:
“Our first point today is that too often our federal and state governments do not recognize the unique challenges that regulation of agriculture pose for small farmers. However, in the case of Senate Bill 150, OFU does not oppose the newly
proposed certification and licensure for fertilizer application. As a fertilizer bill, what is proposed is a good start. However, history and context remind us this legislation began as a nutrient management bill aimed at agriculture’s role in mitigating watershed quality problems across Ohio. What is being considered today does not address the entire scope of farming’s impact on Ohio’s lakes rivers and streams.”
Specifically, Wise said that taking the role of manure completely off the table in a bill that is aimed at improving water quality and potential agricultural pollution is short-sighted. He predicted that interested parties and legislators would be back on this issue in the future due to leaving manure out of the discussion.
“That row crop farmers are singled out in this bill with the stated goal of resolving problems in our watersheds is not a deal breaker for OFU,” Wise said, but added that the “absence of effort” to hold all agricultural stakeholders accountable left OFU in the position of not being able to act as a full proponent of the bill.
“If the goal of this bill is to address agriculture’s role in alleviating water pollution, taking manure off the table is misguided in our estimation,” Wise said.
Wise proposed the following for the committee’s consideration:
- Manure should be included in the definition of fertilizer in the Ohio Revised Code and any legal definition of ‘agricultural pollution.’
- So-called AFOs – Animal Feeding Operations – the smaller brethren of CAFOs should be included along with Confined Animal Feeding Operations in a determination of improvements to their regulatory regime in order for state agencies to determine and head off problems with runoff from the operations before they become disasters like that in Grand Lake St. Mary’s.
- Wise pointed to recent developments in the state of Iowa including increased inspections of AFOs and CAFOs as well as mandatory regular soil testing as lessons from which Ohio’s regulators may learn.
- The now defunct soil testing laboratory at Ohio State University should receive state funding to restart and continue operations for Ohio’s farmers.
The third hearing on the bill will be held Wednesday. Sources at the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture believe Sub. S.B. 150, sponsored by Hite and Sen. Bob Peterson, R-Sabina, once passed by the Senate will be the bill taken up in the House. Hite has indicated that the bill could pass committee this week. He is hopeful the bill is on the governor’s desk before year’s end.