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Farmers Adapt Technology to Protect Water Quality

Farmers and scientists throughout the Great Lakes region have been working in partnership to grow vegetables and row crops with the right fertilizer, at the right time, at the right rate, and in the right places. The goal is to have all nutrients taken up by the growing plants and have less washed into area waterways where we know nutrients contribute to harmful algae growth. This is easier said than done. Technology is expensive and sometimes hard to justify as a cost of farming. A new grant in the Portage and Toussaint watersheds is helping farmers adopt best practices with this cost-sharing program.

A million-dollar grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) is helping farmers with the expense of improving fertilizer management. Soil and Water Conservation Districts in Ottawa and Wood counties are managing the program in the Portage and Toussaint watershed which also includes parts of Sandusky and Hancock counties. See the map for the watershed area below. Farmers in the watersheds who grow row crops and vegetables are eligible for funding to improve fertilizer management on their land.

The project will continue through early spring of 2019. This program will assist farmers with the cost of:
variable rate fertilizer application and cover crops
water control structures

Variable Rate Technology
Precision nutrient management (the 4Rs) depends on knowing the deficiencies of the soil acre by acre. Once the soil is tested - on a three-acre grid or tighter - and the data tied to location by GPS, fertilizer can be administered just as needed by specialized Variable Rate Technology (VRT) equipment. The terms of this grant will reimburse farmers for the cost of fertilizer application done as a service by dealers who own the equipment. The reimbursement rate is $10/acre.

Cover crops planted after harvest protect land and reduce nutrient loss by preventing erosion from wind and water and by taking up excess nutrients into biomass. Cover crops are not cash crops and are tilled back into the soil before spring planting. The program will reimburse farmers at the rate of $25/acre/year for planting cover crops for two years. Recommended crops include grasses, legumes, and brassicas – cabbages, radishes, etc.

Farmers will document fertilizer and nutrient rates for the growing season before and after the VRT practice. That data will enable researchers to calculate the phosphorus load reduction achieved by the practice.

Water Control Structures
In flat and swampy northwest Ohio, most farm fields control water through drainage tools. While this practice makes rich soil available for farming, drain tiles can be a highway for excess nutrients, pushing them directly into the ditches and streams. In times of heavy rains, water control structures can keep water in the fields where it will gradually percolate into the ground. Studies show that excess nutrients in the water remain available for plants.

The grant will reimburse farmers for the cost of installing control valves (stopper boards) and blind inlets (sand filters in tile inlets). Participants will be required to document the cost of the structures and the location, quantity, and type of structure. Participating farmers will reimbursed at $1,200 per structure.

Farmers are invited to contact their SWCD:
Wood County Soil and Water Conservation District
Beth Landers
Phone: (419) 354-5517 | Website: www.woodswcd.com

Ottawa County Soil and Water Conservation District
Contact: Mike Libben
Phone: 419-898-1595 |
Website: www.ottawaswcd.wix.com/ottawaswcd

The Portage/Toussaint watershed drains 738 square miles in four counties. The soils are mostly glacial tills and clayey lake deposits, largely artificially drained. The land is 78.5 percent agricultural use. Both rivers drain into the western Lake Erie basin not far from two major municipal water intakes.

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