DARKE COUNTY - The Ohio Senate has approved a bill directing the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) to establish a fertilizer applicator certification program in Ohio.
The sponsors of Senate Bill 150, Senator Cliff Hite (R–Findlay)and Senator Bob Peterson (R–Washington Court House), designed the legislation to address agricultural nutrient runoff into Ohio waterways and the algae problems in Grand Lake St. Marys and Lake Erie.
“Algae is a growing issue in all of Ohio’s streams and lakes that needs to be addressed immediately,” said Hite, who also serves as the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “This is one step forward in protecting Ohio’s water by creating more mindful standards for the application of agriculture nutrients.”
Senate Bill 150 would require the chief of the Division of Soil and Water Resources to establish standards to abate wind or water erosion of soil, and would authorize the chief to develop an operation and management plan to address agricultural pollution. This legislation would also establish new requirements for applying fertilizer for agriculture production and encourage the use of nutrient management plans to reduce potential runoff.
According to Senator Hite, the bill hinges on a new education and certification program that will give farmers additional information about fertilizer and nutrient use best practices.
In a joint statement, Jerry Bambauer, Ohio Soybean Association president and Auglaize County farmer emphasized the need to fully understand this challenge before solutions can be implemented.
“There are still many unknowns and no one has a clear understanding of exactly how phosphorus is moving through the soil profile from farm fields into waterways,” said Bambauer. “We also don’t know why problems are being discovered in areas with little to no agricultural activity. For this reason, OSA’s sister organization, the Ohio Soybean Council, the Ohio Corn Marketing Program, the Ohio Small Grains Marketing Program, and many others are supporting edge-of-field monitoring of phosphorus runoff that will show us exactly how this nutrient is moving and how best to keep it on the land where it belongs.”
Brent Hostetler, Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association President and Union County farmer stressed the commitment and actions Ohio farmers are already taking to address water quality concerns.
“Research is vital but farmers are not sitting idly by,” he said. “They are implementing best management practices on their farms to mitigate any potential runoff. Farmers are also applying the 4-R principles of nutrient management (right source, right rate, right time and right place). Ohio farmers care about the health of the land and water and are committed to doing their part to find solutions that work for all Ohioans.”
However, critics of S.B. 150 point to its failure to address how livestock manure from concentrated animal feeding operations is stored and applied on local farmland, which is cited as a main source of toxic algae growth.
As specified in S.B. 150, someone who applies “fertilizer” for agricultural production on land more than 50 acres in size would have to be certified by the ODA as a fertilizer applicator, or would have to be acting under the instruction of a certified fertilizer applicator.
According to Peggy Kirk Hall, J.D., assistant professor and field specialist, Agricultural & Resource Law, College of Food, Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, those who would make applications of fertilizer on land parcels of 50 acres or less would be exempt from the certification requirement. The bill would also allow the ODA director to establish additional exemptions for certain persons or certain “types of cultivation.”
Under the bill, “fertilizer” means any substance containing nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium or any recognized plant nutrient element or compound that is used for its plant nutrient content or for compounding mixed fertilizers. The definition of fertilizer does not include lime, manure and residual farm products such as bedding, wash waters, waste feed, silage drainage and certain dead animal composts, unless those are mixed with fertilizer materials or distributed with a guaranteed analysis.
The Senate’s bill directs that the program must educate applicants on the time, place, form, amount, handling, and application of fertilizer—commonly referred to as the “4-R’s” of nutrient stewardship.
The bill allows the ODA to establish a fee for applicants who seek certification, but the fee may not exceed the fee charged for the state’s pesticide applicator certification program. Additionally, the bill exempts persons who hold an Ohio commercial or private pesticide applicator’s license from paying an additional application fee if they also seek fertilizer application certification.
Certified applicators would have to maintain fertilizer application records for at least three years from the date of a fertilizer application. The records must include the date, place and rate of application, an analysis of the fertilizer and the name of the person applying the fertilizer.
The bill would allow a person who operates agricultural land to develop a voluntary nutrient management plan in collaboration with Ohio State University, the Soil and Water Conservation District or the Natural Resource Conservation Service or its certified providers and submit the plan for approval by the Soil and Water Conservation District.
By completing a nutrient management plan, a person sued in a claim involving liability for an application of fertilizer would have a legal defense that would prevent liability upon proving certain criteria, including fertilization certification, proper recording and proving that the fertilizer was applied according to the approved nutrient management plan.
If the bill is passed by the Ohio House of Representatives, the fertilizer application certification program would begin on Sept. 30 on the third year following the law’s effective date.
For more information about OSU Extension, Darke County, visit the Darke County OSU Extension web site at www.darke.osu.edu, the OSU Extension Darke County Facebook page or contact Sam Custer, at 937.548.5215.