Saturday, April 23rd, 2011
By Nancy Allen
Group to help farmers manage manure
  An organization is forming to help Grand Lake Watershed farmers find solutions to manage their manure.
The yet unnamed group will be facilitated by the Marion Community Development Organization's (MCDO) agriculture committee.
MCDO President James Keller said farmers need to take control of the situation and start helping each other.
"We need to start attacking this problem professionally and from a practical standpoint," Keller said. "Our primary mission is to get this manure off the ground and do it cost effectively. We have a group of livestock producers anxious to solve this problem."
Manure runoff has become a heighten issue the last couple years as toxic algae blooms have plaqued Grand Lake. The algae is fed by phosphorous, a main component of manure. The lake was nearly shut down last year after the state issued an advisory telling people to have no contact with the water due to the algae toxins.  
Jared Ebbing, Mercer County community and economic development director, said Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Jim Zehringer of Fort Recovery contacted Ebbing in November about forming a group for farmers similar to the Lake Restoration Commission (LRC). The LRC is a volunteer organization formed a year ago to find solutions to the lake's poor water quality. That group has raised $660,000 to buy in-lake equipment designed to improve water quality and pay for research and data analysis.
A short time later, Ebbing contacted Keller with the idea, and soon after, the group was formed. The group is in its early stages and still needs to write a mission statement and bylaws, Keller said.
"I think this (farmer group) is big ... just seeing what the LRC has been able to do in just over a year with people trying to come up with solutions, coming together and collaborating," Ebbing said. "This group can do the same thing for the ag community."
MCDO members are talking with an Oregon company that turns phosphorous from hog manure into a fertilizer additive, Keller said.
"We produce tons of manure which has a value in itself," he said. "But you can't always put it on the ground."
Keller said the group wants to create a website where farmers who need to get rid of manure can contact others who need it and make transfer arrangements.
MCDO also has submitted a $50,000 grant application to the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service to have nutrient experts study the manure situation and make recommendations.
Ebbing said Keller is using his position with MCDO and the farming community to bring ag leaders together. MCDO was formed in 1990 as a nonprofit to promote development in the Marion communities.
The 13,500-acre Grand Lake is one of the state's most polluted largely because of runoff of phosphorous in manure and fertilizer, tests show. Ag land comprises more than 80 percent of the lake's watershed. Mercer County has the highest concentration of large livestock farms in the state, most of which are located in the lake's watershed.
The state in January designated the Grand Lake watershed distressed because of last summer's toxic algae blooms. The distressed status triggered 20 new rules targeted at reducing ag runoff. Most of the rules took affect in January; the last two rules - one requiring farmers to have a nutrient management plan and another banning manure spreading during the winter - will go into effect in 2013.
The group's meetings will give farmers a forum to talk about what they are doing, Ebbing said.
"I think farmers do get a bad rap," he said. "They need to let the public know they are doing stuff because they are. The problem is nobody really knows about it."
Ebbing said the area needs both the lake and farmers.
"We don't want to lose what we have," Ebbing said. "Yeah, the lake's important, but so are the ag operations."

Time to meet:
A new group is forming to represent farmers in finding ways to manage manure in the Grand Lake Watershed. The next meeting is 8 p.m. May 2 at the Marion Township building in the Marion Industrial Park, state Route 716.
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