COLUMBUS – Protecting Ohio’s water resources through innovative agricultural practices is the goal of a new partnership between the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The two organizations will create and manage demonstration farms in the Blanchard River Watershed.
Through 2020, OFBF will create two to four demonstration farms as models for new innovations that reduce and prevent agricultural nutrient runoff, then share those discoveries with local farmers, land management agencies and the public. The demonstration farms are a key component of OFBF’s Water Quality Action Plan, a comprehensive initiative to help farmers proactively improve and protect water quality.
In the coming weeks, Ohio Farm Bureau will appoint a local advisory committee to assist in developing the criteria in which the demonstration farm sites will be selected. Diversity will be important so that the farms reflect the makeup of agriculture in the watershed regarding crops and livestock, farm sizes, soil types, topography and current farming practices. The demonstration farms are expected to be identified in early 2016.
Farm Bureau also will contract with landowners and farmers to install demonstration conservation systems to monitor farm inputs and outputs including nutrient levels, annual application rates and the methods and timing of applications. Ohio Farm Bureau also will develop strategies in which to share the innovative practices that are identified.
To lead Farm Bureau’s efforts, Aaron Heilers of Botkins, Ohio, has been contracted to serve as a liaison between OFBF; federal, state and local stakeholders; and local landowners. Previously, Heilers served as a nutrient management technician at the Auglaize County Soil and Water Conservation District. He attended The Ohio State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture.
NRCS will provide eligible farm operators with financial assistance through conservation program contracts for conservation system implementation and will provide technical guidance to the advisory committee. NRCS also will provide conservation experts for speaking during field days and other outreach events.
The project includes several crucial components:
• Edge of field monitoring – Monitoring stations will be established to measure changes in sediment and nutrient losses via surface runoff as well as drainage tile discharge. Water quality and quantity monitoring before and after the project implementation will provide the data necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of the conservation practice.
• Economic analysis – The overall economic impact of the conservation practices on the farmer.
• Participation and attendance – The level of interest among farmers, stakeholders (i.e. how many visited the demonstration farm or participated in tours).
• Project replication – The frequency in which other farmers in the Western Lake Erie Basin replicate the conservation practices.
This project also will be supported by federal, state and local partners including Hardin and Hancock Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Blanchard River Watershed Partnership, Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, USDA Agricultural Research Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Geological Service, OSU Extension, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Agriculture.