Farmland

Photo by Jesse Knish/Farm Flavor Media

The Ohio Department of Agriculture is making strides to help farmers be even better stewards of the land and water with two new nutrient management tools. In May 2017, ODA rolled out the Ohio Applicator Forecast and Ohio Agricultural Stewardship Verification Program.

The Ohio Applicator Forecast is aimed at helping farmers minimize water runoff. As runoff moves over farmland, it washes away vital soil nutrients into nearby watersheds. With the forecast, farmers can make better nutrient application decisions based on the projected runoff.

The forecast, which is a multistate and multiagency project spearheaded by the National Weather Service, gathers data and predicts possible runoff in any given area. It takes into account a variety of conditions, including soil moisture content, snow buildup and melt, and forecasted precipitation and temperatures.

“What is unique about this tool is that it is combining current forecasts with known runoff conditions to predict near real-time runoff events, which is something that hasn’t been done before,” says Jared Shaffer, plant health inspector with ODA Division of Plant Health. “It’s going beyond simply providing a weather forecast.”

Farmers can view a color-coded runoff risk, zoom into an area, and see a seven-day forecast of runoff risk, and also view snow cover data and the amount of water expected from a snow melt.

“If we’re showing a medium or high risk, then applicators need to take a closer look at their fields and the weather forecasts,” Shaffer says.

Farmers are already doing a great job of minimizing nutrient runoff, Shaffer notes, and the program is another tool to help further educate farmers about best management practices across the state. The map can be accessed at agri.ohio.gov/divs/plant/OhioApplicatorForecast.

The Ohio Agricultural Stewardship Verification Program is also helping farmers by getting them officially certified for best management practices in targeted watershed areas in Henry and Wood counties. ODA plans to eventually take the program statewide.

“This is an excellent tool to show people outside of agriculture what is being done to protect water quality,” says Kirk Hines, chief of ODA Division of Soil and Water Conservation.

The program is voluntary and uses signage and other means to let the public know these producers are using best management practices to protect water quality.

To determine eligibility, Hines says staff members review the producer’s nutrient management plans and evaluate best management practices used, with a focus on soil testing, cover crops, filter strips and practicing the 4R Approach (the Right Nutrient Source at the Right Rate and Right Time in the Right Place).

The program is the next step in advancing agriculture’s role in protecting waterways across the state, including Lake Erie, Hines says.

Farmers can apply by contacting their local soil and water conservation district for more information.