By LOU WILIN
Farmers squirmed Thursday and State Sen. Cliff Hite reassured them as Gov. John Kasich signed into law Hite’s bill targeting their use of crop nutrients.
Hite, R-Findlay, said he balanced farm interests with those of Lake Erie charter fishing companies, which are dying along with fish populations. The culprit is toxic algae which feeds on the same phosphorus that nourishes crops. Surplus phosphorus drains into lakes and streams from farm fields.
Hite’s bill, co-sponsored by former Ohio Farm Bureau President and State Sen. Bob Peterson, R-Sabina, provides for farmers to be educated in new rules for applying and managing nutrients.
But some say farmers are being scapegoated. Phosphorus comes from other places besides farms, said Hancock County Farm Bureau President Gary Wilson and Hancock County Extension Crop Specialist Ed Lentz.
Findlay residents feed algae when they flush their toilets, Wilson said.
“Look at municipal waste, look at private waste and all of that waste … Anybody that fertilizes their lawn and garden would have (phosphorus),” he said. “Anybody that would be applying any kind of nutrients, which even comes to sludge that would come from municipal solid waste treatment plants from Findlay or any of the surrounding towns.”
Hite agreed farmers have been “getting almost all of the blame.” He also admits the law is “not the end-all and be-all.”
But he insisted he is not throwing farmers under the bus. They will be pleased, he predicted.
“When these people go to get certified, they will learn more items that can help them be more efficient, and in the long run, it will help them save money,” Hite said. “If you do soil testing and you find out you have more phosphorus than you need, and you don’t have to apply as much, you just saved a bunch of money.”
The year-and-a-half of testimony and debate involving various sides swayed those outside the new law’s scope. The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., in Marysville, has reduced phosphorus and nitrogen in its products, Hite said.
“This bill has had much more effect than just on the farmers … Other people have gotten the message,” he said. “Probably, I would guess, they are anticipating we might try to do something else down the road.”
Researchers and state officials will watch how much the new rules reduce the algae problem. More measures may be taken in coming years, Hite said.
By then, farmers could be in a stronger position.
“Lets get people on the same page … in the agricultural world … and put our best foot forward, and then see what happens,” he said. “Maybe we can encourage, then, other entities that are not within our domain to start anteing up and kicking in as well. And that was the idea.”
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