Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have forecasted that harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie this summer will be larger than last year. However, they are also predicting they will be nowhere near as large as the record bloom of 2011. In a recent press conference the agency said the bloom could cover 300 square miles of the lake this summer. That is about one fifith the size of the 1,600 square mile bloom that formed on the lake in 2011.
Phosphorous loading from fertilizers, manure and sewage are the main cause of the blooms according to the officials. Heavy rains this spring are this spring have already carried 262 tons of dissolved phosphorous intot he lake, according to reports from the Water Quality lab at Heidelberg College.
Ag groups responded to the announcement by noting they are doing their part to maintain and improve the health of Ohio's waterways.
More than $1 million is being invested by Ohio's agricultural organizations – including the Ohio Soybean Council, Ohio Small Grains Marketing Program and the Ohio Corn Marketing Program – to conduct on-farm, edge-of-field testing in partnership with The Ohio State University, OSU Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, according to a release from the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association and the Ohio Soybean Councild
"Technology and advanced farm equipment are also helping farmers accurately apply the right source of fertilizer at the right time, in the right place and with the right amount – thus producing more with less. This is known as 4R stewardship," the groups noted.
Experts with Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences continue to work with farmers statewide to offer steps agriculture can take to continue to lessen the potential for runoff from farmlands.
Farmers are concerned about nutrient loss, believing that it is likely to have a negative impact on water quality and profit potential, says Greg LaBarge, an Ohio State University Extension field specialist and one of the leaders of the OSU Agronomic Crops Team.
Phosphorus fertilizer is essential to Ohio crop production for food, fuel and fiber, LaBarge says.
"We are continuing to look for best management practices farmers can implement to reduce farm field phosphorus lost into water resources, which increases the potential for harmful algal blooms," he says.
Algal blooms have been an issue in Lake Erie since the 1960s. The blooms, which are harmful to wildlife and humans, occur when phosphorus levels are high within the lake. These levels decreased during the 1980s and 1990s in part due to soil-conserving best management practices implemented by farmers, but within the last decade water quality monitoring has revealed an increase in dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP).
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today (7/2) forecast that the 2013 western Lake Erie harmful algal bloom will be larger than last year but considerably less than the record-setting 2011 bloom.
While current causes of the DRP increase are unidentified, experts believe increased rain events of more than one inch, fertilizer placement and legacy soil test levels play a role, LaBarge said.