OTTAWA – State and federal experts on agriculture and water quality gathered in Ottawa today to explain what’s causing harmful algal blooms (HAB) in the western basin of Lake Erie and what farmers can do to help alleviate the problem.
The Ohio Farmers Union and the Ohio Environmental Council sponsored the forum. Farmers in attendance were from northwest and west central Ohio in the heart of the Maumee River watershed.
“These gatherings are important to keep getting the message that Lake Erie can be restored and farmers will do their part,” said Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan.
“Farmers also come away with a great deal of information about best management practices in dealing with nutrients and keeping as much as fertilizer on their fields and out of our streams and lakes,” Logan added.
Dr. Jeffrey Reutter, director of Ohio Sea Grant and a researcher who has studied Lake Erie since the 1970s, told the gathering that Lake Erie is unique among the Great Lakes due to its relatively shallow depth and the rate at which water flushes out of the lake. In the western basin, where the algal blooms generally begin and are at their worst, Reutter said the flush out rate is 20 to 50 days.
He demonstrated that phosphorous overload in Lake Erie is indeed at the root of the HAB problem and that reducing the amount of phosphorous by 40 percent would curtail the blooms.
Another unique aspect of Lake Erie is the sheer amount of agricultural land that is encompassed by watersheds draining into its western basin Reutter said. The Maumee River watershed drains 4.5 million acres of agricultural land directly into the Maumee Bay near Toledo. In all, there are 7 million acres of agricultural land that drain into the western basin.
Reutter points to the fact that the lake was cleaned up in the 1970s and told the forum that it can happen again.
Also presenting was Greg LaBarge from the Ohio State University Extension. LaBarge explained the state’s new fertilizer applicator certification that must be completed by producers farming more than 50 acres by Sept. 30, 2017. To date well over 1,000 farmers have completed the training and in the coming months another 7,000 are expected to get certified. LaBarge said there are approximately 40,000 farmers with more than 50 acres in production in the state.
An agronomist who specializes in fields, LaBarge gave examples of several best practices already in use by many Ohio farmers. He said that there are a few other items that should get more attention by producers. Among these are efforts to slow down the movement of water off of a farmer’s land, looking at each field and its risk profile separately and building up soil quality.
Also speaking at the forum were Jocelyn Henderson, Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources; John Wilson, Natural Resources Conservation Service; Christopher Gibbs, Mercer County FSA and Marla Koerner, USDA.