'We are continuing to look for best management practices' to improve water quality

With harmful algal blooms forecast to have increased this summer in western Lake Erie, experts with CFAES are continuing to work with farmers statewide to offer steps that agriculture can take to lessen the potential for runoff from farmlands. 

Farmers are concerned about nutrient loss, believing that it is likely to have a negative impact on water quality and profit potential, said Greg LaBarge, an OSU Extension field specialist and one of the leaders of CFAES's Agronomic Crops Team. The team also includes scientists from OARDC.

Phosphorus fertilizer is essential to Ohio crop production for food, fuel, and fiber, LaBarge said. 

"We are continuing to look for best management practices farmers can implement to reduce farm field phosphorus lost into water resources, which increases the potential for harmful algal blooms," he said. 

 

"We have to balance protecting water and feeding everyone's family. Ohio State will play a big role in helping farmers do both."—John C. "Jack" Fisher, executive vice president, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation

Algal blooms have been an issue in Lake Erie since the 1960s. The blooms, which are harmful to wildlife and humans, occur when phosphorus levels are high within the lake. These levels decreased during the 1980s and 1990s in part due to soil-conserving best management practices implemented by farmers, but within the past decade water quality monitoring has revealed an increase in dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in July predicted that the 2013 western Lake Erie harmful algal bloom will be larger than last year's but considerably less than the record-setting 2011 bloom.

While current causes of the DRP increase are unidentified, experts believe increased rain events of more than 1 inch, fertilizer placement, and legacy soil test levels play a role, LaBarge said.

Survey: BMPs help improve water quality

In fact, a strong majority of row crop farmers living within the Maumee River watershed of northwest Ohio believe that although agricultural practices including row crop and livestock operations contribute to water quality issues, the available best management practices are effective in reducing the problem, according to a 2013 survey conducted by Ohio State researchers.

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-- Tracy Turner, Communications and Technology