What’s good for the land is good for the farmer. And in Ohio, that means farmers are committed to conserving farmland and protecting the state’s vast and varied natural resources. A $105 billion industry made up of more than 74,400 farms, Ohio food and agriculture has its eye on conservation practices that will secure the prosperity of the industry’s future.
Learning From Each Other
With that vision, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have recently partnered with Ohio farmers to establish demonstration farms, which will showcase conservation practices that reduce and prevent nutrient runoff and improve water quality.
“Agriculture must show that it is willing to be a part of the solution in dealing with environmental issues,” says Aaron Heilers, demonstration farm project manager. “The demonstration farms are a step in that direction.”
William Kellogg, owner of Kellogg Farms in Forest, agrees that farmers need to be part of the solution. Kellogg Farms has 305 acres of corn and soybean fields, and its conservation practices focus on subsurface nutrient placement and its effect on yields. Kellogg Farms will also study potential fertilizer savings using different methods, timing and placements of cover crops, controlled traffic, conservation tillage and proper storage facilities for on-site fertilizer and fuel tanks.
“I like to think of us as a discovery farm,” Kellogg says. “We’re trying to figure out what’s going to make the biggest positive difference in the environment, and trying to discover the best conservation practices and then share those practices with other farms.”
Kellogg got involved in the program due to his desire to protect the Blanchard River watershed by reducing algae-feeding nutrient runoff. The Blanchard is a tributary of the Auglaize River, which empties into the Maumee River – the primary source of phosphorus runoff into Lake Erie.
“As farmers, we’ve probably contributed to this problem and we want to help correct it,” Kellogg says. “We want to be good neighbors to all the people in our state who use and enjoy or natural resources. We feel it’s important that we take steps ourselves, voluntarily.”
Heilers says that practices including fertilizer placement techniques and edge-of-field monitoring can help reduce and assess nutrient runoff.
Stateler Family Farms in McComb is also a demonstration farm. With 208 acres of corn, soybean and wheat fields, the farm focuses on managing nutrients associated with modern animal agriculture. Stateler Family Farms also raises pigs in a clean, health-conscious environment and focuses on animal care and sustainability. The farm is studying intensive soil testing, drainage water management, tile water treatment systems, paired edge-of-field testing, alternative crop rotations and variable rate nutrient placement.
“There are efforts to find technologies to be placed at the end of the field tile to capture nutrients before they enter the stream or ditch,” Heilers says. “These filter beds can be effective, but work is being done to see how cost feasible and manageable they are.”
Kurt Farm in Dunkirk is the third demonstration location. The farm includes 168 acres of corn and soybean fields where it will monitor the effect of a previously constructed two-stage ditch on water quality.
“The farms will allow farmers, consumers and policymakers to see what conservation practices are available that are making an impact in water quality,” Heilers says.
Getting the Facts
In addition to the state’s work with demonstration farms, more than 12,000 Ohio farmers and counting are trained in best practices to apply fertilizer for optimum crop yield, reduce the risk of nutrient runoff and improve water quality across the state. This preparedness is part of Fertilizer Applicator Certification Training, or FACT, which allows farmers and commercial fertilizer applicators to meet the educational requirements of Ohio’s agricultural fertilizer applicator certification law.
Researchers and educators at The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences in partnership with the Ohio Department of Agriculture developed the certification training, which provides research-based tactics to keep nutrients on the field and available to crops while increasing stewardship of nearby and downstream water resources.
Partnering with the demonstration farms is a way to help increase the impact these training courses have for farmers, Heilers says.
Looking Toward the Future
Heilers says results from the edge-of-field research that has been taking place in Ohio for a few years is being gathered to show what practices make a significant difference in reducing the potential for nutrient loss.
“One example: placing nutrients below the soil surface drastically reduces loss,” he says. “Placing nutrients at a time and place that the crop can more readily use them will go a long way in reducing losses downstream.”