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Friday, August 6th, 2010

More boots on the ground

State, federal personnel coming to Grand Lake watershed to help farmers

By Nancy Allen
The state is pushing area ag producers to develop a land management plan and change their manure application process by 2012 and more personnel are coming to help with the process.
Four more staff will be coming to help Grand Lake watershed farmers improve manure management in an effort to stem the flow of nutrients feeding Grand Lake's toxic blue-green algae. A fifth started a few weeks ago.
The news was reported by Nikki Hawk, administrator/education specialist at the Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District, during Thursday's monthly Mercer County agriculture breakfast meeting in Celina.
The workers will help farmers come into compliance with two new proposed rules from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The first would require every livestock farmer who generates or uses 350 tons or more manure annually to get a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan and the second would prohibit manure application between Dec. 15 and March 1 without prior approval.
Both new rules are expected to be approved this December. They would be phased in during two years and become effective Dec. 15, 2012.
Two weeks ago Steve McDevitt, the former conservationist with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Auglaize County, began a two-year position in the Grand Lake watershed. He will be working with farmers to develop whole farm conservation plans. Assisting him will be two other NRCS employees who have yet to be hired. McDevitt's and the two other positions will be funded with NRCS money.
Two more employees also will be hired for at least a year at the Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District.
The new SWCD positions will be paid with ODNR funds for the first year. Hawk said hopes are that the second and third year the positions would be funded by ODNR money allocated in the state's next biennium budget, which runs July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2013.
"I anticipate they will all be on board by Oct. 1," Hawk said. "They will all be housed in the current SWCD/FSA office space."
Terry Mescher, an agricultural engineer with ODNR, updated the group on what has been done in the watershed since November 2009.
He was brought to the watershed in May 2009 to help farmers after the state put its first water quality advisory on Grand Lake due to unsafe algae toxin levels. He is one of four core team members giving farmers technical assistance and registering them for government programs that pay part of the costs to implement conservation practices.
Emergency funding became available two weeks ago and farmers can apply for a portion of $1 million in USDA money from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Priority will be given to applications requesting funds for transporting manure and planting winter cover crops. The deadline to apply for a first round of funding is today. If funds remain, applications will be accepted until Aug. 20.
In the last two years, $2.5 million in special EQIP funds have come to the watershed for farmers. The million that came last year already has been spent and $1.5 million that came in April has been allocated.
Another $1.5 million in Mississippi River Basin Initiative funds aimed at reducing nutrient runoff are being obligated to farmers in both the Grand Lake and Wabash River watersheds. The deadline to apply for those funds was July 2.
Mescher said when he first began working in the watershed, he was shocked to learn that between 1950 to 2007 there had been a 41/2 fold increase in animal units in Mercer County, where much of the acreage in the 59,000-acre watershed is located. A much smaller portion of the watershed is located in Auglaize County.
Mescher said farmers bristle when they are blamed for the lake's algae issues, but the fact remains that farm ground makes up 85 to 90 percent of the acreage in the watershed.
"Quite honestly we've got too much livestock in one area that is going to result in a lot of nutrient management issues," he said.
Mescher said the response to the funding from farmers aimed at helping Grand Lake has been overwhelming.
A meeting for watershed farmers will be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Knights of St. John hall in Maria Stein to explain the new proposed state rules requiring CNMPs and prohibiting wintertime manure application.
The next monthly Mercer County agriculture breakfast meeting is 7:30 a.m. Sept. 2 at the Mercer County Central Services Building in Celina.

Action in the Grand Lake watershed since November 2009, according to ODNR agricultural engineer Terry Mescher:
• 20 CNMPs written covering 17,000 acres
• 15 CNMPs contracted
• 6 dry stack manure storage structures constructed
• 7 dry stack manure storage structures contracted
• 12 manure storage structures requested
• 4 feed lot covers built
• 8 feet lot covers requested and/or contracted
• 4 milkhouse wastewater systems installed and/or contracted
Additional online story on this date
CELINA - The Ohio EPA soon will require the city's wastewater treatment plant to reduce the amount of phosphorous released into Beaver Creek.
And it may cost the city nearly $100,000 to construct the necessary building and purchase equipment to meet the unfunded mandate. [More]
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Land buy eyed
Water sampling legislation
Fee increase unopposed