Iowa Public Television

 

Ohio Wants Farmers to Help Reduce Lake Erie Algae

posted on March 16, 2012


TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio's farmers won't be forced to change how they use fertilizer and manure even though both are thought to be contributing to the growing algae outbreaks in Lake Erie. Instead, state officials are hoping that farmers will make the adjustments on their own.

State officials studying the lake's algae problem released on Thursday recommendations aimed at cutting down on pollutants that feed the algae.

The ideas were primarily aimed at the agriculture industry, but the report made it clear that it was not singling out farmers or blaming them for the massive, smelly algae blooms that were the worst in memory on Lake Erie last summer.

"Agriculture's a very small portion of the problem," said David Daniels, a longtime farmer who heads the state's Department of Agriculture.

The state wants farmers to play a part in cutting phosphorus runoff by taking frequent soil samples and following guidelines for applying fertilizers. It also is recommending that farmers don't put fertilizer on frozen fields.

The changes are voluntary now but could be mandated down the road.

Ohio Natural Resources Director James Zehringer, a former poultry farmer, said farmers in northern Ohio have done a good job reducing in phosphorous that is found in fertilizers. Phosphorus runoff from farms and municipal waste treatment plants is believed to be a leading cause of the algae problem.

Environmental groups and some business owners who make their living on the lake, including charter boat captains, want to see more aggressive steps to reduce phosphorus runoff.

Sandy Bihn, who leads a group called the Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association, said she expected the state to issue stronger guidelines.

"There has to be more help for the water than this," she said.

The state last year banned farmers near Ohio's largest inland lake from spreading manure on their frozen land because of an outbreak of toxic algae. Bihn said she thought the state would issue a similar rule for farmers in Lake Erie's watershed.

Studies have shown the algae blooms have been spreading farther in western Lake Erie between Toledo and Cleveland.

At their worst, the algae have forced beach closures and driven away boaters and anglers.

The report released Thursday also recommended that the state expand statewide soil testing programs, create incentives for farmers who are limiting pollutants and spend more time educating farmers about how to cut down on phosphorous.

 


Tags: agriculture Lake Erie Ohio Phophorus runoff