Programs Can Ease Lake Erie Problems

Growers in Northwestern Ohio are taking steps to protect Lake Erie from phosphorous runoff and reduce the toxic algae blooms.

Published on: Jun 27, 2013

Farmers in the Lake Erie Basin have a number of special programs to help reduce phosphorous flow to Lake Erie. Crawford County farmers are doing their part to combat the algae problems in the lake, reports Mike Hall, program administrator with the Crawford Soil and Water Conservation District.

Hall points to several grants and federal programs as “great opportunities” for Crawford County farmers.  “Crawford County has very innovative and conscientious agricultural producers who want to do what is right for our lake. And they are taking advantage of new programs and practices that help reduce runoff from their farms.” 

One of these programs is a grant received through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for the Loss Creek watershed east of Bucyrus.  “This grant allows producers to experiment with new management practices that reduce nutrient runoff from their farms, practices like cover crops and drainage water management have been implemented on a number of farms through this grant.”  Drainage Water Management involves installing a water level control device on field tile to manipulate the amount and timing of water leaving the field.

COVER PLAN:  Soybeans no-tilled into cereal rye cover crop to reduce soil erosion and improve soil health  and quality in crop fields.
COVER PLAN: Soybeans no-tilled into cereal rye cover crop to reduce soil erosion and improve soil health and quality in crop fields.

“Controlling when and how much of drainage leaves a field can be an important step in reducing the amount of runoff leaving a farm field”, Hall says.  “We are not flooding fields or blocking tile, just managing flows at key times for maximum crop benefit.”  If nutrients are associated with this water, and studies indicate this may be the case, keeping this water in the field also keeps the nutrients in the field where they will be used by the growing crop.  “Managing tile flows also increases soil moisture levels which may prove to be a benefit to the crop during the growing season,” adds Hall.  

Another helpful practice being implemented throughout the county is cover cropping.  Cover crops are planted in the fall of the year into crop field s and remain their over winter until spring when the next crop is planted.

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“These cover crops provide a multitude of benefits, one of which is they absorb and tie up remaining nutrients that may otherwise runoff in a storm event,” Hall further states “they also prevent soil erosion, and when soil leaves farm fields it carries nutrients and other contaminants with it.  If we stop the erosion, we stop the nutrients too.”  Cover crops are also a key component for improving soil health, increasing organic matter and improving soil structure, all of which provide a better growing environment for crops.

Farmers are also implementing a not so noticeable practice.  4R Nutrient Management is the practice of applying fertilizers at the Right Rate, at the Right Time, in the Right Place and in the Right Form.  “Producers want their fertilizer to work for them and that means it must remain in the crop field. The 4R concept increases the likelihood that applied fertilizers will remain in the field where they will be utilized by the growing crop.” says Hall.  “Producers have moved their fertilizer applications from the fall to the spring, closer to when the crop will need it and are split applying fertilizer at different stages of crop growth, which greatly reduces the chance that it will runoff before the crop can use it.”

While nutrient management itself is not a new concept, new technologies are allowing producers to fine tune their nutrient management skills and apply fertilizer in key locations and at key times to maximize crop yields. Global Positioning Systems and Variable Rate Technology have allowed farmers to adjust the amount of fertilizer applied to a field according to the varying soil test analysis. According to Hall, “this technology allows the producer to apply less fertilizer in areas of the field that don’t need as much and apply more in areas that need more to grow the crop.” 

If you are interested in learning more about these practices or the programs offered by the Crawford SWCD, contact the office at 419-562-8280.  You can also visit their website at www.crawfordswcd.org

Source: Crawford County SWCD.