The USDA announced on Monday that the federal agency is upping its previous $36-million-dollar investment in Lake Erie water quality by a further $41 million.
The previous dollars were part of the 2014 Farm Bill. This new money brings the total federal investment in various conservation programs to $77 million. The funds are part of a three-year plan to help clean up the lake and improve nutrient management and conservation practices in NW Ohio.
“The challenges that face Lake Erie require science-based solutions and a commitment from all partners to address the factors that impact water quality. The area’s farmers and ranchers have already made great strides in helping to reduce runoff, and with this new investment they will be able to do even more,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Farmers and landowners will be able to add conservation measures to about 870,000 acres in this critical watershed, effectively doubling the acres of conservation treatment that can be accomplished in the three years.”
Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller unveiled a new initiative in Toledo on Monday that will run through 2018 and contains the new investment.
Also on Monday, Weller released a report from the Conservation Effects Assessment Project that showed voluntary conservation measures have made a difference in reducing nutrient and soil runoff from farms in the western Lake Erie basin.
Weller said that while gains have been made, there is still opportunity for improvement in NW Ohio, Indiana and Michigan and the new initiative and funding could make a difference in reducing Lake Erie’s plague of annual harmful algae blooms.
According to the CEAP report, this initiative will help landowners reduce phosphorus runoff from farms by more than 640,000 pounds each year and reduce sediment loss by over 260,000 tons over the course of the three-year investment.
“Throughout the basin, comprehensive field-scale conservation planning and conservation systems are needed to accommodate different treatment needs while maintaining productivity,” said Weller. “While voluntary conservation is making a difference in the basin, the CEAP evaluation tells us that there are still gains that can be made through an emphasis on practices like precision agriculture.”
Ohio Farmers Union Joe Logan attended the NRCS event in Toledo and said, “This is a big deal for western Lake Erie and in terms of the commitment USDA has shown agriculture in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.”