News Feature | April 4, 2014

Are Farmers To Blame For Nutrients, Algae In Lake Erie?

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

eriereg

As summer approaches, government and utility officials are preparing to ramp up the fight against algae on Lake Erie.

"There are many programs under way designed to achieve reductions, from a wider use of cover crops to one launched in the Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg last week that creates Ohio’s first statewide certification program for fertilizer applicators," the Toledo Blade reported

Cooperation from agriculture is an important part of the plan. Experts are calling for a steep decrease in runoff from farms. 

"Dr. Jeffery Reuter of the Stone Laboratory called for a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus loading," the Sandusky Register reported

"Reuter admitted the sharp decrease would be a tall task, but he assured the public that it is possible," the report said. 

Agriculture is seen as the top culprit for nutrient discharge into the lake. 

"Some industry officials said they’ve heard estimates tossed around of how agriculture could be responsible for as much as 70 or 80 percent of Lake Erie’s phosphorus," the Blade said.

"They agreed that, conservatively, agriculture was likely responsible for at least half."

The state legislature may also join the fight against algae. 

"A new rule being considered by Ohio lawmakers would impact farmers and take a step toward reducing toxic algae in Lake Erie," the Mansfield News Journal reported.  The proposal would require large farm operations to only apply synthetic or chemical fertilizers on their land if it’s done by someone certified by the state or working with someone who is certified," the report said. 

Research on issues such as run-off is a key part of Ohio's plan to combat algae. For instance, dozens of Ohio farmers are allowing scientists to analyze the chemical composition of their runoff, according to the Blade.

In addition, the state's certification program, which is voluntary, was created to locate companies that use responsible fertilizer practices, according to the piece. "The cornerstone of the new certification program is what agriculture calls its '4 R’s' of fertilizer application: the right source, the right rate, the right time, and the right place," the report said. 

"Industry sees it as a market-driven solution that could fend off a looming threat of heavy-handed government regulations while being more proactive and allowing farmers to accomplish the same result with greater flexibility," the report said. 

John Oster, who spoke on behalf of Morral Companies, a fertilizer manufacturer, gave a positive review of the program. 

“There are a lot of us who are totally and completely committed to this program,” he said in the article. “We are going to make it work. We are going to make a difference.”

The top official in the state supports the cleanup process. "At the urging of Ohio Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), Gov. John Kasich has proposed $10 million over two years to help fight Lake Erie algae," the report said. 

For an aerial view, check out these NASA photos in the Lansing State Journal, showing algae spread out across Lake Erie. 

Read more at Water Online's Nutrient Removal Solution Center.

Image credit: "Solitude," © 2008 Sylvia Schade, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

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