On a sunny Tuesday in September, Terry McClure secured his five-year-old grandson Caleb safely into the tractor beside him, and the fifth-generation farmer worked his land with the potential seventh-generation farmer.
McClure Farms is a 4,000-acre corn, soybean and wheat farm in Grover Hill. Protecting his family farm is important to him, and so is protecting the state’s water resources. McClure is a conservationist; a commitment he says is shared throughout the farming community.
“We’ve always been involved – as all farmers have been – with water conservation issues,” he says. “Our first conservationists were farmers, and we’ve always done what was needed to conserve our resources.”
Demonstrating that commitment, McClure and more than 30 Ohio farmers have volunteered to help Ohio State University conduct research on their farms to minimize run-off of phosphorus, nitrogen and other nutrients that are in the fertilizer that enriches the soil.
The program analyzes the run-off from farms like McClure’s with the use of scientific instrumentation powered by solar panels. The research is part of an effort to reduce the run-off and prevent it from entering the state’s waters and ultimately Lake Erie, which is threatened by algae growth.
Studies indicate nutrient-rich run-off from agricultural operations may contribute to the lake’s algae problems.
Farmers On The Front Lines
“Our primary goal is to understand the problem and do our part to help protect water quality. We have to understand this better in order to do that, which is why this research is important,” McClure says. “Keeping the nutrients on our land also helps our farms.” McClure and other farmers have already employed nutrient management techniques ranging from effective use of cover crops to applying fertilizer beneath the surface to reduce run-off.
Relying On Science
McClure says farmers will embrace science-based management practices to address the nutrient loss.
“Farmers are always looking for solutions,” he says. “We do that every day. Farmers are innovators. We’re always tweaking our operations to improve yields and protect resources.”
One solution is farmers’ willingness to adopt the principles of 4R nutrient stewardship, which are to use the “right fertilizer at the right rate at the right time and in the right places.”
Farmers are encouraged to work with fertilizer dealers who are certified through the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification program. These dealers will help the farmer understand what is already on the field and make educated, science-based decisions on how, when and what to put on the fields for the upcoming growing season.
Delivering science-based information to farmers drives the project, says Dr. Libby Dayton, a researcher with the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State University and principal investigator for the project.
“Many Ohio farmers and farmer groups have communicated to me the importance of reducing the phosphorus loading to Lake Erie and other Ohio surface waters, as well as the need for effective science-based solutions,” Dayton says. “Their support of this work demonstrates their commitment to implementing a science-based solution to Ohio’s ongoing water quality problem.”
Dayton says without the cooperation of farmers like McClure, the project wouldn’t exist.
“We appreciate their willingness to allow us to have our instrumentation on their fields.” McClure says farmers are natural partners in efforts to protect resources. “When you find yourself a fifth-generation farmer, you understand that so many others have paid it forward and made a place for you,” McClure says. “I didn’t clear this land. I didn’t drain this land and some of it, I didn’t have to buy. I owe it to the people who came before me to do what I can to protect it, and right now that’s working on water and soil quality.”
Getting It “Right”
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program launched in 2014 for fertilizer retailers. Almost 50 businesses have already signed up. The program includes training and education as well as monitoring and field implementation of 4R practices. Third party audits are also conducted. Overall, it’s a sign of the industry’s commitment to nutrient stewardship. Requirements and additional details regarding the program are available at www.4Rcertified.org/how.