Legislators seek more power in reducing farm runoff that leads to algal blooms, writes Spencer Hunt in a recent article published in The Columbus Dispatch.  READ THE FULL ARTICLE

Article highlights include:

  • A plan circulated among state agencies, lawmakers, farming lobbyists and environmental advocates would give the Department of Natural Resources the authority to cite farmers for pollution if rain washes too much fertilizer off their fields. Farmers also would have to undergo training and receive a certificate from the Ohio Department of Agriculture before they could spread fertilizer.
  • Those changes are in a Senate bill introduced yesterday. So is a provision that would keep the public from seeing any individual farmer’s fertilizer and manure-management plans.
  • The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Cliff Hite, a Findlay Republican and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he wants to gather comments from farmers and farm businesses over the summer.
  • Changes in state law might be necessary to reduce the toxic blue-green algae that appear in Lake Erie, Grand Lake St. Marys, Buckeye Lake and other Ohio lakes each summer, he said. At stake are billions of dollars in annual tourism, the health of aquatic wildlife and public safety.
  • Natural Resources officials declared Grand Lake St. Marys a “watershed in distress,” and nearby farmers submitted plans this year to limit manure runoff.
  • Ohio Farm Bureau Federation officials said they need to study the draft bill before commenting. 
  • The Farm Bureau mailed letters to farmers in December and January, warning that if they don’t limit polluted runoff, the government would order them to do so.
  • Erica Hawkins, an Ohio Department of Agriculture spokeswoman, said farmers would apply for a fertilizer certificate in the same way they obtain pesticide certificates.
  • In a statement, Department of Natural Resources officials said that expanding their authority to include fertilizer would help “improve water quality now and for generations.”
  • As for shielding farmers’ management plans, the agency said that it wants to protect sensitive information about farms’ business practices.
  • Joe Logan, the Ohio Environmental Council’s agricultural programs director, said some secrecy might be necessary to win farm-industry support.