Friday, January 30th, 2015

Committee looks to farmers for algae solutions

By Nancy Allen

State Reps. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, and John Patterson, D-Jefferson, listen to. . .

VAN WERT - A statewide effort by an Ohio House committee to get farmers' input on fixing Lake Erie's toxic algae problem kicked off with a hearing in Van Wert Thursday.
The new legislation would be in response to a Lake Erie algae bloom that caused Toledo to issue a two-day drinking water ban last summer.
House agriculture and rural development committee members are preparing to draft legislation aimed at reducing harmful algae blooms in the western Lake Erie basin. The committee wanted to hear from farmers who use commercial fertilizer and manure to grow crops. Phosphorous, the algae's main food source, is found in both. The hearing took place at Cooper Farms' cooked meats facility.
"We know we have a very, very serious situation with regards to nutrient management as it relates to algae," said 84th House District Rep Jim Buchy, R- Greenville, who represents Mercer and Auglaize counties. "With the problem we had in Toledo as it relates to water quality, as it relates to algae in the western basin, it is imperative that all in agriculture and in the cities and both coasts (of Lake Erie) are working together."
Ohio lawmakers last year failed to pass House Bill 490 to address the algae problem. The bill died in the Senate after controversial amendments were added. The bill had included a provision banning spreading manure on frozen or water-saturated fields in northwestern Ohio.
Some who testified Thursday worried the new legislation would ban wintertime manure application and force farmers to install expensive storage structures.
"We spread manure and haul it every day. We don't have storage," said Brett Lehman, of Licking County, who testified for the Ohio Dairy Farmers. "Storage is very burdensome to small dairies."
Lehman suggested the legislature enact tax incentives or rebates to help livestock farmers pay for manure storage facilities. He said federal dollars to build such structures are limited.
Frank Phelps, president of the Ohio Cattlemen's Association agreed.
He said wintertime manure application should be allowed as long as the waste is worked into the ground, injected or spread on a growing cover crop.
Darke County hog farmer Jeff Wuebker urged the committee not to use a federal practice standard that prohibits manure application when a 50 percent chance of half an inch of rain within 24 hours exists.
"Custom applicators would continually be out of compliance when pop-up showers hit some areas and not others," he said, adding the legislation should be based on sound science.
Adam Sharp of the Ohio Farm Bureau said the legislation should strike a balance.
"Clean water cannot come at the expense of farming nor can farming trump the need for clean water," he said. "We need action items we can work on now while looking for long-term solutions."
"Weather is a big deal," Sharp said. "I think we only understand part of the factors that affect algae blooms."
Committee member Terry Boose said the legislation should be based on sound science.
Chairman Brian Hill said experts on the science of phosphorous runoff and algae blooms would be invited to testify at later hearings.
Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan said the legislation should cover livestock manure, not just commercial fertilizer.
Logan said if the legislation bans wintertime manure application, it should provide funds for small and mid-sized farms applying manure daily. Logan said thousands of farms across Ohio apply daily rather than storing the waste.
Shelby and Logan County grain and cattle farmer Chris Gibbs said farmers want to be part of a common-sense solution to the problem.
Gibbs, who also is executive director of the Mercer County Farm Service Agency, said farmers in the western Lake Erie basin have installed manure storage structures, spouting and roofs over feed lots, filter strips, grass waterways, cover crops and implemented nutrient management plans.
"I urge caution and adherence to science-based solutions rather than knee-jerk regulations which have the potential to be in the public domain unchecked for decades," he said.
Hill, of Cuyahoga County, said a draft of the legislation should be ready next month. Buchy added he hopes the bill can be introduced in late February.
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COLUMBUS - Ohio's farmers are being squeezed by escalating property taxes and the formula setting those rates must be made more fair and consistent, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said.
COLUMBUS - State legislative leaders agree addressing toxic algae blooms that have beset Ohio's lakes will be a top priority this year, one that both parties will rally behind.
CELINA - This year's Celina Lake Festival may use some of the city's soon-to-be expanded park space, festival committee members said after Thursday's kick-off dinner.
NEW KNOXVILLE - Three Southwestern Auglaize County mayors shared upbeat reviews of their villages' progress in 2014 at the annual State of the Villages Breakfast Thursday morning.
CELINA - Mercer County Commissioners on Thursday approved bids for the purchase of more than $50,000 in materials to complete three culvert replacement projects.
NEW KNOXVILLE - The area's state and federal representatives are responding to their constituents' concerns and trying to improve government, attendees at the annual State of the Villages Breakfast learned Thursday.
VERSAILLES - Marion Local coach Treva Fortkamp had been waiting to witness her team put together 32 minutes of focus, effort and execution on the basketball court.
COLDWATER - Once Fort Recovery controlled its turnovers, its shooting did the damage against Coldwater.
The Indians shot nearly 60 percent from the field in picking up their 11th win of the season with a 61-48 result over the Cavaliers at the Palace in MAC play on Thursday night.
Area Roundup
Compiled by Gary R. Rasberry and Colin Foster
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