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Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Groups: Include manure

By Nancy Allen
WAPAKONETA - Despite push back on pending legislation designed to reduce phosphorous runoff and protect inland lakes, one of the bill's sponsors says it will pass.
Under Senate Bill 150, those who apply man-made commercial fertilizer would have to complete training and receive a certificate from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Farmers also would be encouraged to develop nutrient management plans voluntarily. The bill, which passed the Ohio Senate in January, does not regulate manure application.
"We're getting a lot of opposition on this bill right now, but it's going to pass," Senator Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, said at an agriculture breakfast meeting Tuesday in Wapakoneta.
Hite said the bill has undergone several changes since it was introduced about a year ago.
Representatives of the Humane Society of the United States Ohio Agriculture Advisory Council and the Ohio Farmers Union testified at House agriculture committee hearings Tuesday that the legislation should include manure. The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association said the same thing in its testimony last week. All three groups support the legislation in general and testified as interested parties.
"We cannot ... muster enthusiasm for a bill that imposes a regulatory burden to the vast majority of Ohio farmers while omitting a large and growing segment of potential nutrient sources (manure) from the regulatory program," testimony from the OFU says.
The HSUS Agriculture Advisory Council said in its testimony, "we agree that fertilizer application certification is an appropriate step to help solve the problem of excessive phosphorous in our streams and lakes. However, if the definition of fertilizer does not include livestock manure, we do not believe that the steps proposed in SB 150 will be sufficient to protect Ohio's water resources."
The Ohio Environmental Stewardship Alliance opposes the bill and said in testimony last week it was very disappointed the legislation does not include restrictions on manure.
Training required in the bill would focus on the four Rs of nutrient stewardship, which tells applicators to use the right type of fertilizer at the right rate at the right time and in the right place, said Aaron Heilers, manure nutrient management technician with the Auglaize County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Anyone who applies commercial fertilizer for agricultural production on more than 50 contiguous acres would need to be certified, according to the bill. Hite noted an amendment is being considered that may change that minimum to 100 contiguous acres.
Heilers said talk indicates the certification fee would be $35, the same as pesticide application certification. The ODA would set the fee. Applicators should keep records for three years, he said.
Heilers noted if a farmer has a custom applicator apply the commercial fertilizer, the farmer would not need to be certified. Starter fertilizer used in a planter would be exempt from the legislation.
Heilers said county SWCD or OSU Extension offices can help farmers develop voluntary nutrient-management plans for man-made commercial fertilizer and manure.
"We have 65 nutrient management plans approved at the Auglaize soil and water office, and we have 2,000 operators in the county, so we have some work to do," he said.
The bill would allow the ODA director to deny, suspend, revoke, refuse to renew or modify a fertilizer applicator certificate immediately if there is "substantial reason to believe the certificate holder recklessly applied fertilizer in such a manner that an emergency exists that presents a clear and present danger to human or animal health."
Under the bill, a person sued over applying fertilizer would have a legal defense from liability if: the person is a certified applicator or under the control of a certified applicator, the person properly maintained fertilizer application records as required by the certification program, and the fertilizer was applied according to and in substantial compliance with an approved voluntary nutrient management plan.
Hite said those applying commercial fertilizer would have three years to become certified after the bill is signed into law.
Nutrient management plans are already required for livestock farmers in the Grand Lake Watershed responsible for producing, applying or receiving in excess of 350 tons and/or 100,000 gallons of manure a year.
Mandated nutrient management plans are a part of new manure rules livestock farmers in the Grand Lake Watershed must follow after the state designated the watershed distressed in 2011. Senate Bill 150 is aimed mostly at decreasing algae blooms which have occurred in Lake Erie in recent years. The blooms are caused mostly by dissolved phosphorous found in man-made commercial fertilizer.
State Rep. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, said the bill is a positive step toward helping Ohio's waterways.
"I'm satisfied in the grand scheme of things Senate Bill 150 will be a good bill and everyone will want to become certified," he said.
Buchy said it will take a long time for changes in ag practices to have an effect on Grand Lake.
"What happened on Grand Lake happened over 150 years. It didn't happen overnight." Buchy said. "It's going to take time to fix it."
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