In fact, a strong majority of row crop farmers living within the Maumee River watershed of northwest Ohio believe that although agricultural practices including row crop and livestock operations contribute to water quality issues, the available best management practices are effective in reducing the problem, according to a 2013 survey conducted by Ohio State researchers.
The survey found that while farmers feel that they have a limited amount of control over nutrient loss on their farms and the impacts that those nutrients have on water quality, most are willing to take at least one new action on their farm to reduce nutrient loss. Farmers see it as beneficial and valuable, even though they don't all agree about the necessity or fairness of being asked to do so, the survey said.
Ohio State specialists and other agricultural experts have made recommendations to protect water without reducing agricultural productivity. Many farmers have already taken steps to address the part of the water quality problem caused by field runoff.
"For example, some 4,400 farmers attended more than 160 nutrient and water quality training sessions offered by OSU Extension," LaBarge says. "And 82% of farmers are using soil testing methods recommended by OSU Extension to avoid applying excessive amounts of fertilizer."
Other best management practices for agricultural nutrients from Ohio State include:
•Those meant to improve soil health, such as conservation tillage, cover cropping and controlled traffic.
•Those meant to increase nutrient management precision, such as soil testing, grid sampling and comprehensive nutrient management planning.
•Those meant to improve the filtration of surface and subsurface runoff, such as filter strips, grass waterways and biofilters.
•Those meant to improve manure management, such as following Natural Resources Conservation Service guidelines.
Adopting a variety of these practices can serve to curtail nutrient loss from agro-ecosystems, thereby decreasing the overall impact of agriculture on water quality, said Robyn Wilson, an assistant professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources, which is also a part of CFAES.
"The survey suggests that a majority of farmers may be willing to employ additional management practices," says Wilson, who co-authored the study. "The majority are a willing audience, particularly if you can focus your message on the personal benefits to their farms in terms of avoiding profit loss and improving soil health and local water quality.
"If you want to get them to go that extra mile, the communication needs to focus on the benefits of taking action and the negative consequences of not making additional changes."
In addition to helping devise these management practices, Ohio State is also part of an alliance of farm organizations, environmental advocates, academia, businesses and other interested parties that has begun a multi-step initiative to improve water quality over both the short and long terms.
A goal of the group is to continue to prevent phosphorus from escaping from farm fields, organizers say.
CFAES, OSU Extension and OARDC are crucial partners as farmers work to meet the public's expectations, said John C. "Jack" Fisher, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
"We have to balance protecting water and feeding everyone's family," he said. "Ohio State will play a big role in helping farmers do both."