PERRYSBURG – Farmers and nutrient-spreaders want to produce more crops and less algae in Lake Erie.
That’s the push behind the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program, voluntary training which was
promoted to a room full of growers at the Holiday Inn French Quarter on Friday.
The all-day program featured two panel discussions, one focused on farmers and the other for businesses
that spread fertilizer for them, as well as several speakers on subjects like the health of the lake.
The goal is to get more people talking about taking responsibility for the use of agricultural chemicals,
which have played a substantial role but are far from the only factor contributing to the woes that have
returned to the lake in recent years.
"Certainly as agriculture, we need to be sure we’re doing the right things to help make sure he
preserve water quality for us and the people who use it," said Mark Sunderman, president and CEO of
Legacy Farmers Cooperative.
"I think there was a general feeling that it’s not our problem. But it is a little bit of
everybody’s problem. We want to make sure we step up to the plate for what we are contributing to the
Legacy Farmers operates a facility in Custar, among others around Northwest Ohio, which was one of three
that have earned the certification. Sunderman said it consisted of an auditor reviewing how the business
calculated its fertilizer recommendations, as well as recording things like the soil tests that
employees were already performing.
"It was a smaller shift for our facility at Custar because we were already doing a lot of the things
that were asked for the certification. The biggest thing we had to change was making sure we had
documentation for everything so that they could be checked."
During the first session before the panels, there was a lengthy review of the factors that have led to a
resurgence of algae blooms by Jeff Reutter, director of the Stone Laboratory at Put-In-Bay and the Ohio
Sea Grant College Program.
Without shaking a finger at the agricultural community, Reutter explained the science that causes the
algae troubles which culminated in Toledo’s water shutdown in August, most of which are tied to
phosphorus from farming.
"The only way to really control these is to reduce phosphorus," he said.
Reutter estimated that farming chemicals are roughly two-thirds responsible for the current problem,
which is also aggravated by the overflow of combined sewer systems during heavy rain. Conversely, those
sewers were the primary culprit during problems in the 1960s and 1970s, which drew strong national
attention, and eventually prompted corrective action such as the creation of the Environmental
Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act, as well as the funding to separate combined sewers.