Friday, May 3rd, 2013

One plan not filed for nutrient control

By Amy Kronenberger
CELINA - All Grand Lake Watershed farmers, except one, have submitted their state-required nutrient management plans. The final farmer is working toward compliance, a state official said.
Karl Gebhardt, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Soil and Water Resources, during an agriculture breakfast meeting Thursday said the 156 farmers required to complete the plan have "hit the mark."
Terry Mescher, an agriculture engineer with ODNR, said the lone farmer still working on his plan - James Wuebker of Maria Stein - has depopulated his farm and has come to a consent agreement with the state to become compliant.
Gebhardt said he was soon meeting with other officials to determine the next steps to take with the farmer.
All farms in the watershed responsible for producing, applying or receiving in excess of 350 tons and/or 100,000 gallons of manure on an annual basis are required to have a nutrient management plan, which is a formal document describing how to best manage his or her farm's manure so it does not run off and cause pollution in waterways. Plans were suppose to be complete by Dec. 17 as part of new manure rules designed to combat toxic blue-green algae blooms in Grand Lake.
Five farmers were issued chief's orders in early January for not meeting the December deadline.
The chief's orders gave the farmers seven days to submit their plans or request a hearing to be held within 30 days to present arguments of why their plans were not done. ODNR spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle has said none of the farmers requested hearings.
Violating chief's orders could result in a first-degree misdemeanor. Gebhardt said seeking court action is one option but not the only option to remedy violations. He has said cases also could be referred to the Ohio Department of Agriculture to force farms to follow the same rules as a state-permitted facility.
A breakfast attendee asked if the state should consider reprimands that have more "teeth" for violators. Gebhardt replied the chief's orders may not be strict but have worked so far.
"Chief's orders are our teeth, as dull as they are," he said. "But those are our teeth, and I think we need to utilize that before we buy a new pair of dentures."
Gebhardt stressed he wanted to cooperate and work with farmers, not act as the police demanding action.
"There are two ways to handle this," he said. "One way is to be the hard-headed, heavy-handed cop; the other way is to cooperate ... We want to be in a cooperation with farmers; we don't want to be the police."
Gebhardt said research into runoff and algae issues could take years to complete, although immediate action is required. As research progresses, officials will tweak their practices and regulations as needed.
"We'd love to wait 10-15 years for the research to tell us what action is needed ... but we can't wait," he said. "We're building the car as it goes down the road."
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Local Roundup
Compiled by Gary R. Rasberry
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