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Group to launch agriculture water quality campaign to protect Lake Erie

Jeff Reutter
Ohio State University
Chemical fertilizers and manure encourage cyanobacteria growth.

The Michigan Agri-Business Association, a trade group representing agricultural interests, is launching a campaign to educate farmers about best practices to keep chemical fertilizers and manure from flowing into streams and rivers that lead into Lake Erie.

The fertilizers and manure contain nutrients that encourage the growth of toxic cyanobacteria. 

Thick, unsightly blooms of the bright green organism have spread over wide areas of Lake Erie in recent years, including one that surrounded Toledo, Ohio's water intake in 2014, briefly shutting down the water supply to tens of thousands of people.

The five best practices include:

  • Testing soil regularly and following the results, to make sure no more fertilizer is being applied than is necessary
  • Utilizing new technology to optimize fertilizer use
  • Planting cover crops to keep fertilizer and manure on the land and out of the water
  • Applying fertilizer and manure during appropriate weather conditions
  • Relying on the expertise of Certified Crop Advisors to manage the application of nutrients.

Jim Byrum, MABA President, says the good news for farmers is they are able to save money at the same time they are taking steps to improve water quality – because they can use less fertilizer and get the same or better results.
Byrum says many large-scale farms have already implemented many of the five best practices, but smaller farms and people who farm part-time may not have gotten the word.

Byrum says he believes the voluntary approach is the best, particularly because in the current state and federal budget climate, it's highly unlikely any new funds would be allocated for making the best practices mandatory.

MABA is also launching a new training program for workers who apply manure, beginning this spring.  The group already has a chemical fertilizer training program in place; 450 workers participated in the program in 2016, its first year.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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