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Friday, January 11th, 2019

Area farmers may get OK for emergency applications

By William Kincaid
CELINA - Ohio Department of Agriculture officials are in the process of permitting some livestock producers in the Grand Lake Watershed to make emergency manure applications during the winter ban to prevent storage units from overflowing.
They're weighing the potential environmental impact of perhaps as many as 28 producers spreading manure on fields whose conditions meet ODA requirements versus storage overflow.
"So we're trying to balance all of that and see what the best thing to do is," Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District Administrator Nicole Hawk said at Thursday morning's board meeting. The annual manure application ban in the distressed Grand Lake Watershed took effect Dec. 15 and runs through March 1. The Grand Lake Watershed encompasses 58,000 acres whose waterways flow into the lake. It's located mainly south of Grand Lake.
Some livestock producers, officials said, were unable to apply manure on their fields in the weeks leading up to the start of the ban due to difficult, wet conditions, leading to large stockpiles. Heavy rains in the spring and summer created a perfect storm, according to district technician Matt Heckler.
"Most of our guys right now are damming things up to extend their storage well beyond their design life and that's how we've been able to hold off to a point we have (now)," said Terry Mescher, a conservation engineer with ODA's Division of Soil and Water Conservation.
To help alleviate the heavy loads, ODA will allow some producers to spread manure during the ban.
Mescher said manure storage inventory sheets were sent and phone calls made to producers affected by the rules. ODA heard back from 40 people. A handful who live close to the edge of the watershed indicated they would apply manure outside of it.
Officials then narrowed a list of 35 possible applicants down to 28.
"What we're doing with each producer is trying to exhaust any other options (aside from application)," he said.
Officials had considered exporting the manure entirely outside of the watershed but nixed the idea due to similar ground conditions elsewhere.
"It doesn't matter where you go in the west-central part of the state. Our field conditions are the same," he said.
Other options include hauling manure outside of the watershed or transferring excess manure to another storage unit, if physically possible.
"Those 28 that we're still looking at, I don't know if we're going to have a whole lot of other options outside of some sort of manure application within the watershed," Mescher continued. "We're still looking at them. We're still evaluating different alternatives."
Officials at the moment are looking at giving permission to a couple of producers, he said.
Lake Improvement Association trustee Tom Rampe asked what method the selected producers would use to spread manure.
"It's going to be on a case-by-case basis," Mescher replied, adding that ODA officials are assessing storage amounts and ensuring that field conditions meet certain requirements to prevent runoff. "We are also going to be visiting with the producers at the time that they start the application and verifying the actual records of that application upon completion."
Rampe asked if producers would use some kind of manure incorporation technique - tillage that results in full-width disturbance of the soil to a minimum of 4 inches, to prevent runoff.
"It's going to depend on the site conditions at the time," Mescher said. "We might not be able to get this all done and incorporate all the manure."
At present, incorporation would not be effective. And in a few days, the ground will be frozen, he said.
"We could work the ground yesterday. They could get the tillage equipment in the ground. After looking at it, though, if we were incorporating it, it would have led to a faster discharge than to put it on top because all the pore spaces in the soil are absolutely full right now," he said.  
Hawk insisted that her office will keep tabs on all emergency manure spreading and welcomes questions.
"Everything that's being done in the watershed right now has been heavily monitored," she said. "Nothing's being done that we're aware of without direct supervision."
Manure, which contains phosphorus and nitrogen, is more prone to run off into water bodies during rain or snow- and ice-melt events. Though toxic algae - the scourge of waterways - feed on both phosphorus and nitrogen, phosphorus is the algae's favorite food source.
Phosphorus-fed toxic blue-green algal blooms have resulted in state-issued water advisories on Grand Lake every year since 2009 and millions of dollars in lost tourism on the 13,500-acre lake.
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