There’s a growing army working to improve Ohio’s water quality.
Since last fall, the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University has provided fertilizer applicator certification training to 6,439 Ohio growers responsible for farming some 927,000 acres of Buckeye state farmland, and the numbers continue to grow.
Taught by Ohio State University Extension’s Agriculture and Natural Resources program staff, the training is designed to help farmers increase crop yields using less fertilizer more efficiently, thus reducing the potential for phosphorus runoff into the state’s watersheds.
Classes will continue to be offered to more farmers throughout the year, said Greg LaBarge, an OSU Extension field specialist and co-leader of Ohio State’s Agronomic Crops Team. More than 100 of the classes have already been offered, and there are plans to offer at least that many more throughout the year, he said.
The certification training program is part of the college’s effort to improve the state’s water quality by informing growers about how to use less phosphorus and keep more of it on the fields, while increasing crop yields and boosting farm profits, LaBarge said.
“We’ve provided a number of opportunities for training and have had good turnout from farmers,” he said. “This shows that farmers want to do the right thing in terms of nutrient management.
“Farmers want to avoid the negative financial impact on their crop production due to nutrient loss, and they are concerned about nutrient loss impacts on water quality in the state.”
In the end, the goal of the training is to keep nutrient runoff from fertilizers, especially phosphorus, out of Ohio’s waters.
Experts say soluble phosphorus runoff from farms is an important source of harmful algal blooms plaguing Lake Erie and other lakes in recent years. In August, a toxic bloom in western Lake Erie led to a two-day drinking water ban in Toledo.
“Education is a key component for helping farmers manage nutrients for the cropping system,” said Bruce McPheron, Ohio State’s vice president for agricultural administration and dean of CFAES. OSU Extension is the college’s outreach arm.
The certification training program was introduced last September to meet the educational needs of Ohio’s new agricultural fertilization law, which requires farmers who apply fertilizer to more than 50 acres to become certified. The training was developed by Ohio State researchers and educators to provide research-based tactics that keep nutrients in the field and available to crops, while increasing stewardship of nearby water resources. It is offered in partnership with the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA).
Under the agricultural fertilization law, the deadline for growers and chemical nutrient applicators to complete the certification process is Sept. 30, 2017. The certification is valid for three years, at which point the applicator will need to become recertified.
The certification training program focuses on teaching farmers the methods and management techniques to have the appropriate rate, timing, placement and source for fertilizer applications.
The program also offers guidance on:
· Nutrient management.
· The link between phosphorus, harmful algal blooms and agriculture.
· Soil testing for confidence and adaptive management.
· Best management practices for phosphorus.
· Yield and water quality impacts.
· Best management practices for nitrogen, yield and water quality impacts.
McPheron emphasized the role education and training will provide to produce long-term improvements for water health.
“The initial training for the state’s fertilizer applicator certification provided by OSU Extension is only the beginning of the educational opportunities for farmers,” he said. In 2014, McPheron launched Field to Faucet, an initiative that, in part, is bringing experts from regional universities and agencies together to tackle water quality issues as a combined force.
In addition to training farmers for agriculture fertilizer certification, OSU Extension is planning on-farm research focused on nutrient management. Nutrient Stewardship for Cleaner Water is a signature program of the college that will bring research-based education to farmers across Ohio, LaBarge said.
Special projects have been planned also for the Western Lake Erie Watershed Basin to promote best management practices that encourage state-recommended 4R Nutrient Management strategies, which offer guidelines to using the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time, with the right placement.
Upcoming certification training program classes for farmers are listed at nutrienteducation.osu.edu.