Shared from the 3/13/2019 Sandusky Register eEdition

ERIE COUNTY

Farmers paid to reduce runoff

Program encourages landowners to help fight algal blooms

SANDUSKY

Farmers in Erie County are being invited to participate in a new conservation program aimed at reducing runoff that feeds harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.

Enrollment in the Ohio Working Lands program starts on Friday and continues through May 1. Funding for the program comes from the Clean Lake 2020 bill authored by Rep. Steve Arndt, R-Port Clinton, and former Sen. Randy Gardner, which was approved last year and provided $36 billion in various programs aimed at reducing harmful algal blooms.

The Ohio Working Lands program is a joint venture of the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Erie Soil and Water Conservation District. Farmers are being encouraged to establish year-round vegetative cover on eligible cropland, Erie Soil and Water explained in a news release.

Erie Soil and Water Conservation staff will help landowners put together a plan for installing the buffers. Landowners will be eligible to get up to $120 an acre for a five-year contract. There is no cap on what farmers can receive, so long as they meet the program’s requirements, said Breann Hohman, Firelands Coastal Tributaries watershed coordinator for the district.

She said the payments are for each year, so farmers can receive $600 an acre over the five years. The payments are for new buffers and crops must be taken out of production, although hay can still be grown, she said.

To learn more, contact Erie Soil and Water Conservation at 419-626-5211 or visit the office from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at room 131 at the county offices complex at 2900 Columbus Ave., near the fairgrounds.

As the new program became available, the Trump administration announced it wanted to make cuts in traditional federal conservation programs, including programs that benefit the Lake Erie watershed.

The Trump administration’s proposed budget for 2020, released Monday, seeks to cut Farm Bill conservation programs by $9 billion over 10 years, including programs that go to Ohio farmers to reduce runoff that goes into Lake Erie, according to a news release issued by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

The same budget blueprint also sought to cut the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative from $300 million a year to $30 million.

Brown said he would fight the proposed cuts, as well as other cuts proposed in Trump’s budget.

“Instead of investing in Ohio communities so they can grow and create jobs, President Trump is asking Ohioans to pay for permanent tax cuts for millionaires by slashing the programs that hardworking families rely on,” Brown said.

The Trump budget proposes a 15 percent cut in all U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.

The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, released a statement Monday saying Congress will pay little attention to Trump’s proposed farm cuts, including the proposed conservation cuts.

“The President’s budget request is a road map for how to make things worse for farmers, ranchers and those who live in rural communities: $26 billion in cuts to crop insurance; $9 billion in cuts to successful, voluntary conservation programs; $5 billion in cuts to Section 32 programs that help purchase commodities in times of need; $8 billion in cuts to programs that help ranchers recover grazing lands hurt by drought; yet another attempt to cut SNAP; elimination of the Rural Energy for America and Rural Economic Development programs and billions in other cuts,” Peterson said.

“This proposal tells us one of two things: either the White House doesn’t understand why these programs are important, or they don’t care. What’s more, all of these shortsighted cuts are second and third attempts to revisit policy proposals that were rejected in the farm bill negotiations,” Peterson said.

“This budget was concocted by a bunch of ideologues who can’t see what’s clearly going on in the farm economy. The good news is this budget is going nowhere in Congress, where the bipartisan farm bill passed with 369 votes,” he said.

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