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Friday, July 8th, 2011

Farmers work to find efficient solutions to lake problems

By Nancy Allen
CELINA - A farmer-led group wants the public to know its members are working to implement solutions for nutrient runoff into Grand Lake.
Jim Keller represented the Ag Solutions group at Thursday's monthly Mercer County agriculture breakfast meeting. He is president of the nonprofit Marion Community Development Organization (MCDO), which is facilitating the group.
Keller said he and Ag Solutions members are looking at numerous options to lessen the runoff of manure and commercial fertilizers, which contribute to the lake's toxic algae blooms. The group met first in November.
"It's really a group of livestock farmers who have come together in search of cost effective solutions to the nutrient issues impacting the lake," Keller said.
Farming should be nourished and supported, but farmers need to do their part to help too, he said.
About 165 farmers attended the first meeting in November and a core group of 10 farmers attend all Ag Solutions meetings, Keller said. Roughly 270 livestock farmers are in the lake watershed.
A "Manure to Cash" workshop last fall under the leadership of Mercer County OSU Extension educator Jim Hoorman got the ball rolling.
Keller has since spoken with companies that turn hog manure into an asphalt-type substance, extract a phosphorous called struvite from manure to sell as fertilizer, sell chemical compounds for manure lagoons that convert phosphorous to nitrogen and sell manure separators.
Simpler solutions for farmers' include hauling manure outside the watershed and planting winter cover crops.
"I talked with Jim Hoorman for a long time and he said we've got to get roots in the ground 12 months out of the year," Keller said. "This holds a lot of promise I think."
Cover crops keep phosphorous in manure and fertilizers from running off fields and into Grand Lake, where it feeds algae blooms. Hoorman for years has been encouraging cover crops, which are planted in the fall to keep sediment and attached nutrients in place during winter and spring and give farmers a place upon which to spread manure. They also take up and recycle nutrients in the soil for reuse by row crops, reduce soil compaction, increase water infiltration and improve soil structure.
Most of the phosphorous loading into the lake occurs during heavy snow melt and rainfall from December through May when ground is bare after harvest.
Lake watershed farmers received $1 million in special USDA conservation funds this year to help pay for Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMPs), transfer manure out of the watershed and plant cover crops. Farmers used the entire amount and millions more in ag conservation money that has come to the watershed in recent years.
The need for the Ag Solutions group to find solutions will become more vital when stricter manure laws for lake watershed farmers become effective January 2013. The new laws were triggered when the state in January designated the watershed distressed because toxic blue-green algae blooms last summer sickened people and animals. This is the third year the lake is under a state-imposed advisory warning against contact with the water or swallowing it.
Representatives from a Wisconsin-based Amiran Technologies, LLC, are scheduled to speak at the next Ag Solutions meeting 8 p.m. Monday at the Chickasaw library, Keller said. The company claims to have a technology that removes phosphorous from manure economically and turns it into a valuable product.
Keller encouraged anyone with questions to contact him at 419-925-4764 or 419-733-0240.
Also Thursday, Michael Watercutter, a manure management technician hired to help watershed farmers get CNMPs, said about 50 percent have them covering 65 percent of the 46,000 crop acres in the watershed.
The next ag breakfast meeting is 7:30 a.m. Aug. 4 at the Mercer County Central Services Building in Celina. Featured speaker will be public relations consultant Hinda Mitchell.
Additional online story on this date
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