Substitute S.B. 150 is the legislation which mandates Ohio Dept. of Agriculture certification for most farmers and others who apply chemical fertilizers. ODA officials have said that it will take until 2017 before most farmers in Ohio are affected by the new regulation. The bill was originated through work by Senators Cliff Hite and Bob Peterson as well as ODA, Ohio EPA and the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources in reaction to phosphorous overloads in the Lake Erie watershed and other waters in the state. OFU took a neutral stance on the bill after legislators removed manure from the state’s legal definition of “fertilizer” and as part of the definition of “agricultural pollution.”
OFU’s Logan, Askins deliver family farmer group’s final testimony in Senate Ag
A several times amended Senate Bill 150, legislation that would require a nutrient application certification for many of Ohio’s farmers was unanimously approved by the Ohio Senate Agriculture Committee earlier today.
The bill was previously stalled over the issue of whether or not so-called “affirmative defense” language would remain in the bill benefiting farmers who are in substantial compliance with voluntary nutrient management plans on their farms as defined in the bill. An affirmative defense is a legal term which means that legally certain facts are established on their face by the existence of a nutrient management plan. In an amendment to the bill offered today, Sen. Bob Peterson, R-Sabina, proposed putting affirmative defense language back into the bill. That amendment passed along with two other technical corrections unanimously.
Prior to the vote to pass the bill out of committee, Ohio Farmers Union Executive Committee member Joe Logan told the committee that OFU appreciates the steps being taken to address agriculture’s role in water quality issues, especially in the western basin of Lake Erie.
The exclusion of manure from a bill dealing with fertilizer is an oversight that undermines the overall objectives of the new regulatory regime Logan told the committee.
“If a broad, regulatory approach is indeed necessary to achieve the goals of environmental protection, The Ohio Farmers Union firmly believes that it must include all sources of agricultural nutrient loads, including livestock feeding operations, where nutrients from livestock manure are aggregated to extreme. Unless livestock manure is included in the regulatory certification program, we believe that the program is unlikely to achieve the environmental goals,” Logan said.
“The net result of such an outcome would be a needless and ineffective expansion of governmental regulation.”
OFU member Vickie Askins provided written testimony on behalf of the Ohio Environmental Stewardship Alliance, an interest group that tracks livestock factory farms and their environmental impacts.
“In light of the reduced use of commercial fertilizer, I believe manure has become a major contributor of excess phosphorous given the vast amount of waste produced by Ohio’s CAFOs,” Askins wrote to the committee. She pointed out what’s become known as the “manure loophole,” allowed under Ohio Department of Agriculture rules for manure management.
“The ODA manure loophole allows people with no training to spread massive amounts of manure anywhere, anytime and at any rate- with no oversight,” Askins wrote.
Placing the affirmative defense language back into the bill did get bill sponsors Peterson and Ag Chairman Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, the support of the Ohio Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau today testified as supporting the bill.
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.
The Ohio Senate agreed to the minor House amendment to SB 66, the bill which will update Ohio’s grain indemnity law.
Since the senate overwhelmingly supported the original bill, this was no surprise. What was a surprise was the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Cliff Hite (R-Findlay) being introduced as the former chairman of the Senate Ag Committee. Hite chuckled and went about his business in explaining the House amendment.
It turns out that earlier in the day, Hite was replaced as chairman by Sen. Bob Petersen (R-Washington Court House). Given the smiles on the floor on both senators’ faces, it appears that the change in leadership came as no surprise.
Based on discussion at the last Agricultural Commodity Advisory Commission, which oversees the grain warehouse program and grain indemnity fund, the one-half cent per bushel levy will begin to be collected at the beginning of 2014. The indemnity fund would be built up to its new cap of $15 million. Ohio Dept. of Agriculture officials say that based on past history, it will take around two years of collecting the levy to build up to the new cap. Another needed change contained in the bill is explicitly setting farmers as the primary lienholders if an elevator goes under. Finally, barley, oats, rye, grain sorghum, sunflower and speltz are removed from the list of commodities covered by the fund.
Of course this all dependent on Gov. Kasich’s signature which is expected soon.