ODA launches pilot program at Wood County farm

Ohio Department of Agriculture David Daniels talks with a group of local farmers. Visit www.sent-trib.com to watch a video. 5/17/17

HOYTVILLE -- Two small sections in Wood and Henry counties were selected by the Ohio Department of Agriculture for a pilot program. The announcement was made Wednesday at the Drewes farm in Jackson Township.

The pilot program is called the Ohio Agricultural Stewardship Verification Program. ODA Director David Daniels made the announcement and apologized for the long name, adding, "but that's what it is."

The program is currently only for those in the watersheds of Cutoff Ditch in Wood County and Upper Beaver Creek in Henry County. Daniels anticipates this program going statewide fairly quickly. It is designed to provide certification for farmers who protect farmland and natural resources by implementing best management practices on their farms.

Daniels noted the importance of agriculture to Ohio's economy, saying it has a net value of $105 billion per year.

"Agriculture is huge in Ohio and Ohio has been a leader among all states including being the first in the nation to develop a nutrient certification program."

He said almost 16,000 producers have now been certified for nutrient applications, and called this pilot program a "new opportunity" for Ohio to again be a leader.

At the same meeting, officials also introduced a new service that is now available to all Ohio growers called the Ohio Applicator Forecast. The new online tool is designed to help nutrient applicators identify times when the potential nutrient loss from a fertilizer or manure application is low. The ODA has partnered with the National Weather Service to provide the data necessary for establishing the ideal timing to minimize runoff. The new app is available to all Ohio farmers and Daniels suggested it is also valuable for gardeners.

"The National Weather Service is excited to work with Ohio in their efforts to help farmers reduce nutrient runoff across the Midwest," said Brian Astifan, the development and operations hydrologist with the National Weather Service Ohio River Forecast Center in Wilmington. "We believe Ohio's partnership with several federal agencies and educational institutions to develop this decision-support tool will benefit farmers and ultimately work towards improving Ohio's water quality."

Kirk Hines, chief of the ODA's Division of Soil and Water, outlined the certification plan, noting how the new certification program is just the "next step" in advancing the agricultural role in protecting waterways including Lake Erie. "We are now setting the bar higher."

He said they are looking for 20 operations to register in the pilot area who apply and meet criteria developed by his division. Criteria for the certification include developed nutrient management plans, accurate soil tests and documented best management practices, among others.

The program will begin as a pilot with an intention to expand the program to all of Ohio. It is all voluntary.

"The diversity and size of this program is ideal for us," said Mark Drewes, who operates Drewes Farms along with his son, Tyler. "All this is valid and much-needed to continue to cooperate as we do our part to protect the environment."

He added, "We have learned over the years -- we have a lot to learn. There is so much more to learn."

Drewes stressed the water problems have been here and built up over decades, so the solutions will not be done overnight.

"We are excited to be one of the first farms in Ohio to prove our commitment to improving water quality through this verification program," Tyler Drewes said to ODA officials.

"Farming as many acres as we do in the Western Lake Erie Basin region, we know we play a very important role in the long-term improvement of the lake's water quality. We want to be part of the solution and this program will help farmers toward that goal."

ODA will continue to reach out to farmers and applicators in the coming months to make them aware of these new and beneficial tools. Those interested in applying for the Agricultural Stewardship Verification Program can visit their local Soil and Water Conservation District office to find out how to become involved.

For the Ohio Applicator Forecast, individuals can visit http://agri.ohio.gov/divs/plant/OhioApplicatorForecast/oaf.aspx.