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Environmentalists and Farmers Sound Off on Fertilizer Rules Aimed at Stemming Algal Blooms

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While there are plenty of jokes that could be made about lawmakers debating a bill about fertilizer, it’s no laughing matter to environmentalists and to farmers. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports on a debate over a bill to put new regulations on this key part of the agriculture industry.

Friday, March 28, 2014 at 5:53 pm

The bill would require those who spread fertilizer on 50 or more acres of farm fields in Ohio to be trained and have licenses to do so – which are similar to rules put in place regarding pesticides.

Jack Shaner with the Ohio Environmental Council says this is an important step to deal with the massive algal blooms that shut down Grand Lake St. Mary’s in western Ohio in recent years and are threatening Lake Erie.

“That is a positive thing, because a nutrient is a nutrient is a nutrient," Shaner said. "Once it gets in the water, if there’s too much of it, it can fuel this toxic algae growth.”

Farmers were concerned at first about putting new rules on agriculture that would require more paperwork but result in less productive farming.

Tony Seekers is with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, and he says the bill is a good compromise for the land and for those who work it.

“We never said we didn’t want regulations," Seekers said. "It’s just – let’s make sure that the bill is done right. And we struck a great balance with protecting the environment while also protecting crop practices and farming practices, so we can continue to feed not just Ohio but the world.”

But environmentalists say while they’re pleased with the idea behind the bill, they’re unhappy about what they see as an exclusion – manure. Shaner says just because it’s seen as a natural source of fertilizer, that doesn’t mean it’s not a potential problem when there’s too much of it.

“Doesn’t matter if it’s a natural source or a synthetic source. You don’t want overnutrification. That fuels toxic algae growth," Shaner said. "That causes an oxygen-deprived dead zone in Lake Erie, in Grand Lake St. Mary’s, over in Buckeye Lake and around the state. Farmers apply fertilizer and manure. They need it for their crops. They can’t overapply it.”

But Seekers says manure is already heavily regulated in the state, and so this bill was aimed at other sources of potential problems.

“What we’re really seeing the issue is from is dissolved phosphorus," Seekers said. "It’s not, we’re looking at this for the first time and seeing that this phosphorus is leaving the fields from fertilizer. Let’s get our arms around that. And this is one component of a lot of activities going on right now and been going on.”

Shaner says environmental activists are concerned right now about the application of manure on frozen fields, which he says won’t be able to absorb the fertilizer so it’ll run off into the water supply. But Seekers says farmers will be careful with manure right now, since no one wants to buy it and spread it only to see it wash away with the first spring rains.

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