Shared from the 5/15/2019 Sandusky Register eEdition

ALGAL BLOOM

Manure solution sparks debate

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Hohman

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Bihn

SANDUSKY

A new state program designed to reduce runoff into Lake Erie, which feeds harmful algal blooms, may actually be encouraging farmers to use too much manure, according to an environmental group.

Lake Erie Waterkeeper said the new Ohio Working Lands Small Grains program, which encourages farmers to plant small grains such as wheat, barley, oats or rye, has farmers apply more manure to the land than they need, increasing the threat posed by nutrient runoff into the lake.

A Lake Erie environmentalist, however, defended the program. The Small Grains program may not be perfect, but it encourages farmers to move to sustainable operations that improve the soil and reduce nutrient loss from the land, said Breann Hohman, watershed coordinator for Erie Soil and Water Conservation District.

Sandy Bihn, the leader of Lake Erie Waterkeeper, said in a news release Ohio is offering farmers $75 an acre to apply manure, with a soil phosphorus allowances of 150 parts per million.

That exceeds the program’s original limit of 50 ppm, which is all that’s needed for crops, Bihn said.

Bihn said it is “simply wrong” for Ohio taxpayers to pay for excessive manure applications that increase the runoff risk to Lake Erie.

“Clearly the growing numbers of confined animals in Ohio and the increase in manure adds to harmful algae in Lake Erie,” Bihn said.

“Lake Erie Waterkeeper will be submitting a request to the DeWine administration for manure to be managed like commercial fertilizer, with manure precision phosphorous applications with any excess manure treated and managed as a waste,” Bihn said.

Hohman explained encouraging farmers to plant small grains reduces runoff.

“Small grains like cereal rye, winter wheat, barley, etc. are helpful in reducing runoff because they are planted closer providing more coverage on the soil, help build additional carbon in the soil, provide a cover on the soil in the winter (corn and beans only grow during warm months) that helps to prevent sheet flow and wind erosion, and improve the biological activity of the soil that help to retain nutrients,” Hohman wrote in an email in response to the Register’s questions.

“Over the past decades, falling small grain prices have resulted in more fields in a corn-bean rotation and not a cornbean-wheat (or other small grain). Continuous corn-bean rotations do not provide adequate diversity to maintain a healthy soil ecosystem, which can degrade the soil over time,” she wrote.

Hohman said while the state bans applying manure or other fertilizer on frozen or rainy ground, there are no rules on the amount of phosphorus put into the soil.

The Small Grains program requires farmers who choose to take part to follow several additional rules dealing with phosphorus, including meeting conservation guidelines for nutrients, testing the soil for phosphorus and harvesting a double crop to remove phosphorus from the soil.

“I do not believe the claim that this program is supporting the excessive application of manure in the Western Basin watershed,” Hohman wrote.

She said it’s important to persuade farmers to improve the soil with responsible manure applications, as manure is important to soil health.

“Manure plays a great role into improving the biological activity of the soil, something that commercial fertilizers cannot do. The health of our soils in Ohio are not what they used to be; they have lost organic matter, structure, and many of the organisms that keep it in balance,” Hohman wrote.

“It is estimated that our soils have lost about 50 percent of organic matter, the very thing that holds water and nutrients from running off the land,” she said.

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