By JOY BROWN
An “agricultural nutrients bill” aimed at addressing Ohio’s growing water quality problem recently passed unanimously in the Ohio Senate, and is expected to be considered soon by the Ohio House.
Sponsored by state Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, and by Senate colleague and former Ohio Farm Bureau leader Bob Peterson, R-Fayette County, the bill targets farmers’ fertilizer use by proposing educational mandates that are similar to those required for pesticide use.
If the House approves the bill as it is, farmers would be required to be schooled every three years on the “four R’s” of nutrient management: the right fertilizer source, at the right time, in the right place, and at the right rate. They would also be subject to a $30 application fee as part of a certification program.
Ohio would be the first state in the nation to take this step, Hite said.
Runoff from agricultural fertilizer has been identified as one of the causes of algal blooms that have appeared in recent years in Grand Lake St. Marys and Lake Erie. Along with stifling oxygen supplies and causing aquatic vegetation to die, the algae can also produce toxins that are harmful to humans and animals.
Hite said the Senate bill went through several alterations before passing unanimously on the floor and facing no opposition in committee.
It was developed in cooperation with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the state’s Department of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture, Department of Health, and Ohio Lake Erie Commission.
“We introduced this bill last May. We wanted people to have a chance to vet it over the summer at places like county fairs, where they could talk to their legislators and express their concerns and ideas,” Hite said.
“Some were initially opposed to it, so we kept altering it…” he said. “This is something in our area that has been huge. There was a lot of consternation as to what we’d make farmers do and don’t do.”
One of the alterations included eliminating language that would have governed manure use and disposal.
That change has been questioned by some groups, including the Ohio Farmers Union, which caused it to take a neutral stance on the bill instead of fully backing it. Hite said Lake Erie charter boat captains weren’t pleased with that, either.
Hite admitted the legislation is imperfect, and called it a starting point.
“This will not by itself eliminate the problems in our streams and lakes,” Hite said. “But this is taking a step forward toward building a solution.”