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Farmers Work To Keep Algae-Causing Nutrients Out Of Water

Original source: Clumbus Dispatch


 Duane Stateler's Hancock County farm is a showcase for conservation practices, many of them designed to keep nitrogen and phosphorus out of drinking water.

Stateler's property has — among other things — a monitoring system in nearby waterways, phosphorus removal beds, a drainage management structure, and cover crops to keep the soil in place after the primary crops are harvested.

“Our soil health has come a lot further than we thought it would," Stateler told several dozen agricultural specialists and academics he hosted on a recent tour of his farm.

Stateler wants his peers to know which techniques are worthwhile and how to best adopt them.

"Farmers are pretty timid," he said. "They like watching someone else do it first."

The stakes are high. Nitrogen and phosphorus starve rivers and lakes of oxygen and cause harmful algae blooms that contaminate drinking water and kill aquatic life. Algae blooms forced Toledo residents to use bottled water for several days in 2014 when blooms made water from Lake Erie unsafe to drink. 

Algae blooms have also filled many of Ohio's inland lakes and have stretched hundreds of miles along the Ohio River. 

Ohio has spent tens of millions of dollars to keep the nutrients out of waterways, most prominently through H2Ohio, a $172 million Ohio Department of Agriculture program that compensates farmers for equipment purchases and restores nutrient-absorbing wetlands.

Measuring water quality and identifying the source of harmful nutrients is a complex process requiring meticulous calculations. Intangibles like heavy rainfall or drought can affect the data, which means assessing the farming community’s progress isn’t as simple as testing rivers and streams.

While nearly everyone agrees that a sizable number of farmers have changed their ways, meaningful data on their efforts is months, if not years, away, scientists and environmentalists say.

In the meantime, experimentation helps farmers identify which strategies work best.

Stateler’s farm near McComb is one of three in the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

Stateler said the work there showed that some best practices are effective, while other techniques disappointed.

Water drains from an underground pipe on Duane Stateler's farm in McComb which features a testing system developed by the USDA that measures nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in water from surface run-off water as well as from the tile drainage below the surface.

Cover crops, for example, work extraordinarily well at trapping nitrogen and keeping soil healthy, but are unable to prevent phosphorus from escaping, Stateler said.

“In order to capture all of it we need to apply it when the crop is growing,” Stateler said. “So we’re trying to come up with more ways we can do that.”

Quantifying progress

Measuring nitrogen and phosphorus in watersheds is an... click on source link for full article.

... GO TO Keep Algae-Causing Nutrients Out Of Water TO READ MORE

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