Ag Beat: Farms failing on algae

BUCYRUS – Agricultural producers are drastically failing in their efforts to curb phosphorus runoff in the western Lake Erie watershed.

That’s the conclusion of a new study conducted by the University of Michigan Water Center, which found that efforts undertaken so far to keep the phosphorus found in agricultural fertilizers and manure from running off fields and into the lake aren’t likely to come close to meeting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced goal of reducing runoff by 40 percent.

Phosphorus is essentially energy food for algae, which two years ago choked Toledo’s water supply, making it undrinkable. Last year’s algal bloom in the western basin of Lake Erie was the largest on record.

Lake Erie’s watershed extends into northern Richland County, northwestern Marion County, and covers about three-quarters of Crawford County.

The University of Michigan study recommends a series of practices farmers can take to minimize phosphorus runoff, all of which are already becoming standard operating procedure for many producers across north central Ohio, particularly the planting of cover crops over the winter. The study also calls for farmers to plant buffer zones of vegetation between crop fields and waterways, and to inject fertilizers into the soil instead of just spreading them on top of the ground.

The study said too many farmers in the region are not using those practices, which so far are mostly voluntary. But it’s one policy alternative touted in the study that will render the analysis essentially meaningless to many in the ag community.

For farmers in the Maumee River watershed, the focus of the study, to meet EPA’s goal of 40 percent phosphorus reduction in western Lake Erie, 30,000 acres would have to be converted from cropland to grassland, the study said. That’s the equivalent of 6,300 farms.

“Yes, agriculture’s got some things we need to do. But to give the idea that a single sector of our economy or a single geography is the only way to attack this … runs the risk of raising unrealistic expectations among the public,” Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, told the Associated Press.

A no-go on GMOs

Legislation to get ahead of a new Vermont law that will require genetically modified organism labeling on foods sold in that state died this month in Congress, and many analysts following the issue expect Vermont’s move to be the first step toward a nationwide effort to include GMO labels on all foods. Campbell’s, General Mills and Mars have already announced that they will go that route.

What will that mean for the future of GMOs in our food supply?

A new study by Purdue University makes a case for keeping GMOs in our crops. Although a handful of other countries have banned GMO traits, they account for 89 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. and 94 percent of all soybeans.

The Purdue study estimates that elimination of GMOs would result in corn yield declines of 11.2 percent and 5.2 percent for soybeans, with prices for those commodities in turn rising by 28 percent and 22 percent, respectively.

But more significantly, the researchers said, pasture and forest would have to be converted to cropland to make up for the loss in yield, with a corresponding increase in greenhouse gas emissions to farm the added acreage.

“Some of the same groups that oppose GMOs want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the potential for global warming. The result we get is that you can’t have it both ways. If you want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, an important tool to do that is with GMO traits,” Purdue’s Wally Tyner said.

Farm to Family

Marion’s Leslie Jordan and Lisa Shumaker have been honored for their Farm to Family initiative, an effort of the Marion County Farm Bureau that teaches low-income families how to prepare nutritious, affordable meals while connecting farmers with consumers.

Jordan, an Ohio resident agent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Packers and Stockyards Program, and Shumaker, her sister, an appraiser at Marion AgCredit, were honored by Farm Credit’s Fresh Perspectives program.

The sisters said they created Farm to Family when they realized many food pantry clients didn’t know how to prepare meals that were good for them. At various events, they have helped more than 300 families, and last year the program expanded into a local high school.

“We saw a need in our community and an opportunity for the agricultural industry to meet that need. The people we serve inspire us to continue serving, and Farm to Family will continue to grow and evolve to meet the needs of our community,” Jordan said.

 

Original post on Telegraph-Forum

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