Saturday, August 11th, 2012
Mercer County Extension ag educator promoted cover crops, manure management
By Nancy Allen
The area is losing a core member of a team working to reduce agricultural runoff to help stifle toxic blue-green algae blooms in Grand Lake.
Jim Hoorman, Mercer County OSU Extension educator, is leaving to take a full-time ag educator position with the Putnam County Extension office, effective Sept. 1.
Hoorman said he took the new post because state funds for his position in Mercer County ran out July 1.
He was hired in August 2009 to work 50 percent in Mercer County, mostly encouraging lake watershed farmers to plant winter cover crops, and 50 percent for Extension on state, regional and national projects. He said he wasn't looking to leave until he learned funding for his job would run out.
Extension is funded by federal, state and county funds. Mercer County Commissioners continue to fund the local office at a reduced level.
Extension offices must receive local government funding to receive state and federal funding, Barb Phares, Extension educator for 4-H Youth Development in Mercer County, said for an earlier story. Some counties have stopped funding Extension offices, which then were closed. Many offices have reduced hours and cut staff due to budget cuts.
Hoorman, a Putnam County native who now lives in Hancock County, said Putnam County Commissioners fund a full-time ag educator position. Extension is not a service counties are mandated to fund.
"They have decided there that ag is important and they want to have it funded 100 percent," Hoorman said. "But they also have more industry there that produces more tax funds so they can pay for more programming."
The last time Mercer County employed a full-time ag Extension educator was in 2009.
Hoorman was hired primarily to encourage watershed farmers to plant winter cover crops and promote good manure management practices that reduce phosphorous runoff into the lake, which has suffered toxic blue-green algae blooms the last four summers. The algae is fed largely by phosphorous that runs off mostly farmland in the livestock rich watershed.
Hoorman said he believes cover crops should continue to be promoted in the watershed.
The crops are planted after cash crops are harvested. Cover crops reduce soil erosion, nutrient runoff and soil compaction and tie up nutrients for use by spring planted crops. They also give farmers a place to spread their manure. Most of the phosphorous that runs off into the lake does so in fall and spring when manure is spread on bare ground after harvest, studies have shown.
Hoorman said Extension intends to replace him with a half-time extension educator.
"It's going to be up to commissioners whether it's going to be a full-time position," he said.
Hoorman will continue to participate in various pilot projects ongoing in the lake watershed.
Hoorman has master's degrees in business and agricultural economics and a bachelor's degree in animal science. He currently is working on his doctorate in environmental sciences, studying the use of cover crops to recycle soil nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) and soil compaction.
Hoorman is at the forefront of studies on the agricultural and environmental benefits of using winter cover crops. He routinely speaks on the topic in Ohio and throughout the country.
He said he will miss working with the farmers and fellow Extension and ag staff in the "vibrant" agricultural county.
"I will really miss working with Bro. Nick Renner; we have been very closely aligned," Hoorman said. "He taught me a lot going around and introduced me to a lot of farmers I would not have ever met."
Renner was hired by Extension a year ago as an independent consultant to assist Hoorman. The funds for Renner's position were raised through local donations. There is enough money left to pay Renner through January or March, Hoorman said.
The Mercer County Extension also offers many non-ag programs on diabetic education and cooking, pain management and nutrition for senior citizens, baby-sitting, Head Start nutrition education, preschool vision screening, life skills training for juvenile offenders and various educational programs at local schools.
The local office this week announced that effective immediately it will discontinue Friday office hours in response to extremely tight operating budgets.
Phares, who is working at the Mercer County Fair this week, could not be reached for comment Friday.