Most farmers take soil samples for nutrient analysis in the fall. They will then apply lime, phosphorus, and potassium, depending upon the analysis.
These nutrients are applied as commercial fertilizer or manure in the fall after crops have been harvested and before the soil freezes.
It would be business as usual, but farmers now have to be concerned about the Agricultural Pollution Abatement Program, better known as Senate Bill 1.
The legislation became effective July 3. By law, farmers must follow practices that may reduce the potential of phosphorus and nitrogen leaving their fields. Most farmers followed these practices long before the legislation.
A large part of Senate Bill 1 only affects the western basin of Lake Erie and not the rest of the state. The basin includes the watersheds of the Maumee, Portage, and Sandusky rivers. The Blanchard River is part of the Maumee, and parts of northern Hancock County drain into the Portage.
Nitrogen and phosphorus are the only fertilizers to be included under the bill because they are the nutrients involved with the algae problem in Lake Erie. Manure contains nitrogen and phosphorus, so it is also part of the legislation.
The law prohibits the application of nitrogen or phosphorus fertilizer and manure on snow-covered or frozen soil, or when the top 2 inches of soil are saturated from precipitation.
The law further restricts nutrient application based on the chance and the amount of rainfall after application, and whether fertilizer or manure is applied.
The fertilizer component of the law reads: “Granular form of fertilizer may not be applied if the local weather forecast has a greater than 50 percent chance of rain exceeding 1 inch in a 12-hour period following application, unless the fertilizer is injected into the ground, incorporated within 24 hours of surface application, or applied onto a growing crop.”
Manure applications have a 24-hour weather window, but a forecast of only one-half inch of rain.
The manure component of the law reads: “Manure may not be applied when the local weather forecast for the application area contains greater than a 50 percent chance of precipitation exceeding one-half inch in a 24-hour period, unless the manure is injected into the ground, incorporated within 24 hours of surface application, or applied onto a growing crop.”
Farmers should print off the forecast prior to application for proof that the forecast did not exceed the rainfall limit. Printable local forecasts may be obtained from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website, http://weather.gov.
Wheat, forages, and cover crops will be the only “growing crops” in our area after the corn and soybean harvest. Forages would include hay fields and pasture. There are many cover crops, but rye and oil seed radishes account for most of the acres.
There is a serious concern that the restrictions on manure may force small- and medium-sized livestock operations out of business since they may not be able to afford the cost of building additional manure-holding areas.
Thus, small- and medium-sized agricultural operations may apply for a temporary exemption from the law’s restrictions on manure applications. The chief of the division of soil and water resources may grant an exemption of up to one year for a medium agricultural operation and up to two years for a small operation, if the operation is working toward compliance.
Senate Bill 1 also has a financial penalty for violations. The maximum amount is $10,000 per violation, but enforcement details are still being worked out by state agencies. People concerned about a potential violation should contact the county Soil and Water Conservation District office.
Scientists still do not know why there has been an increase in algae blooms in Lake Erie in recent years, after years of being “clean.” They know that algae need nutrients, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen. Senate Bill 1 is a step to reduce nutrients flowing into the lake.
However, at the end of the day, weather events may be the main cause of algae blooms in the lake, and blooms will still occur regardless of the regulations.
Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for The Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.
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