By Nancy Allen
It's time for farmers to take back their watershed, said Grand Lake/Wabash Watershed Alliance Joint Board Chairman Alan Imwalle.
Imwalle organized a meeting for about 50 farmers, agriculture leaders and business representatives Tuesday to set a new path for the watershed alliance.
Farmer support for the project has waned over the years.
"The way you are getting bashed in the local newspaper isn't fair, and we're here to do something about it," Imwalle said, referring to recent newspaper articles about local farmers not following federal guidelines for wintertime manure application. "We're here to construct a road map for this watershed."
Imwalle, an Auglaize County cattle farmer, gave a presentation on USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service practice standard 633, which lays out guidelines for wintertime manure application. USDA recommends against applying manure on frozen and snow-covered ground, but if application is necessary, standard 633 details how it should be done to reduce the risk of water pollution from manure runoff. It includes limits on how much manure can be applied to frozen ground, setbacks from waterways and creating breaks between where manure is spread on a field.
The standard also says manure should be spread on frozen ground only if the ground has 90 percent of good cover on it. That would include fields with good quality hay or pasture, those with corn stalks left after harvest and fields with wheat stubble that has not been clipped or baled. A field with bean stubble will not have adequate cover for wintertime manure application, Imwalle said.
Imwalle showed the farmers numerous photos taken in the watershed where manure was applied too heavily and too close to creeks. Other slides showed manure applied on snow-covered ground that was melting and running off into open ditches. One slide showed how someone had cut a channel into the side of a manure-laden farm field so the melting runoff could escape into an open ditch.
"That's just asking for trouble," Imwalle said.
He noted that any farm operation, regardless of size, could be forced to get an EPA permit that would force them to follow tougher environmental rules if they are found polluting state waterways.
Imwalle also discussed federal funds for farmers to plant filter strips along streams to keep manure out and talked about putting up manure storage facilities.
Meeting attendees noted they would like to see more funding for farmers to implement conservation practices, especially in the Environmental Quality Incentives program (EQIP), which provides cost-share funds to construct manure storage structures. Manure containment structures is the most popular EQIP practice used by farmers in Mercer County, which has the highest concentration of livestock of any county in the state.
One local dairy farmer said farmers should be proactive when it comes to conservation.
"We have to start doing stuff on our own without there being programs for it," Coldwater dairy farmer Kevin Bettinger said. "We can't always depend on them."