Farmers hear why and how they can help heal Lake Erie Featured

Jeff Reutter, Director of Ohio Sea Grant, reports on the health of Lake Erie.

On the same day that the Ohio House of Representatives Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee gave unanimous approval to SB150, the Nutrient Management Bill requiring farmers to have state certification to apply synthetic or chemical fertilizers to the land, the Lake Erie Farm Forum and Conservation Fair were held at Ottawa County Fairgrounds near Oak Harbor. 

At the forum, hosted by Mike Libben of the Ottawa Soil and Water Conservation District (OSWCD), speakers addressed the health and importance of Lake Erie and how farmers can voluntarily help to heal the lake and prepare for meeting the standards that will be enforced in 2017.

The health of the Lake

Dr. Jeff Reutter of Ohio Sea Grant spoke on the current harmful algae bloom (HAB) crisis for Lake Erie. He talked about the rebirth of the lake in the 70’s and how it went from being a dead lake to the Walleye Capital of the World. He said, “What is different is that (in the 70’s) it was healed by phosphorus reduction, mainly by sewage treatment management.” 

This time, according to Reutter, the bloom of the toxic blue-green algae is more difficult to manage as up to 93% is being caused by agricultural runoff. Experts are estimating that a 40% reduction in phosphorus runoff is needed to prevent the blooms. 

Effects on those drinking the water

Henry Biggert of Carroll Water and Sewer District talked about the public health crisis last October when microcystin toxin from a Lake Erie algae bloom contaminated the drinking water supply of the township. The presence of the toxin that is more deadly than cyanide necessitated borrowing water from Port Clinton’s system until the township’s water supply could be remedied. The city of Toledo likewise had to spend an extra $1 million to treat their drinking water for microcystin. 

Impact on the fish and fishermen

Dave Spangler, Vice President of Lake Erie Ohio Charter Boat Association, addressed the impact of harmful algae blooms on the fishing industry and the local economy. The HABs have resulted in cancelled charter trips, increased fuel usage as boats travel further to find clear water, more nuisance fish such as white perch and sheepshead resulting from changes in the food chain, decreased real estate values and negative publicity that dissuades fishermen and tourists. 

“I have lost business and property value, and now the microcystin toxin is messing with my health and my family’s health,” said Spangler, who lives in Carroll Township.

Spangler appealed to the farmers to help find ways to get the non-compliant farmers, those who are not managing nutrient and manure application properly, to comply. “30% of the soil tested last fall did not meet standards,” said Spangler. 

Spangler concluded, “Remember. We all live downstream.”

Economic impact

“If agriculture leads the way, others will follow,” said Jim Sass, Ottawa County Commissioner and farmer. Since Ottawa County has more Lake Erie shoreline than any other Ohio county, Ottawa County farmers can be especially influential. 

Sass thanked the hundred or so farmers who came to the forum for their interest in keeping the lake clean, and the Soil and Water Conservation District for doing a great job.

Commissioner Sass reinforced the message that we all benefit from a healthy Lake Erie and that we all need to be part of the solutions.

Those who benefit:

•Homeowners and realtors
•Lake-bordering businesses
•Lake-bordering communities
•Public water supplies
•Fish and wildlife
•Wildlife watchers, birders, boaters, outdoor enthusiasts
•All Ohio residents

What we can do:

•Educate residents and businesses on Lake Erie issues
•Learn from what others have experienced
•Present accurate information in the media
•Continue to benefit from all that Lake Erie provides 

What farmers can do

Bret Margraf, Seneca Soil and Water Conservation District Nutrient Specialist, addressed the specific ways that farmers can benefit the health of the lake. 

“The 4 Rs of nutrient stewardship are the Right Source, at the Right Rate, with the Right Timing and in the Right Place,” said Margraf. “Nutrients that stay on the farm result in less run-off to the lake and savings (in nutrient costs) for the farmer.”

Margraf then addressed some specific ways to accomplish good nutrient management:

•Using a combination of no-till and cover crops together seems to work the best for erosion control, nutrient management, improving soil texture, helping water infiltration and increasing organic matter 
•Broadcasting nutrient application on the cover crops, rather than on bare soil
•Controlling drainage through use of outlet tiles and gates
•Planting tall and short crops together

“Each farmer can develop a plan that works best for him,” re-enforced Margraf.

As to the impact of SB 150, Libben of OSWCD pointed out that farmers already are required to be certified to apply pesticides, and that the nutrient certification will follow similar procedures. He encouraged farmers to begin now with better nutrient management practices and reminded them that grants and monies are available for the planting of filter strips and other programs that will help the healing of Lake Erie.

For more information, contact OSWCD at 419.898.1595 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit the website at

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