State grants to help farmers with nutrient runoff

CUSTAR, Ohio (WTVG) - This time of year, all eyes are on Lake Erie, and the rivers that flow into the lake. Experts are keeping an eye on the phosphorus levels, and whether those are going to contribute to a harmful algal bloom later this summer. There's a local program that's helping farmers to keep those nutrients in their fields, and helping to offset some of those costs.

Tyler Drewes and his family grow alfalfa, wheat, soybeans and corn. He says he's only been able to plant half of his fields so far because of the weather. But heavy rains can cause another problem: nutrient runoff. And, like many other area farmers, Drewes is fighting it with the state's help. It starts with planting crops to keep the nutrients in place.

Senate Bill 299 has a total of $23.5 million set aside for farmers in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Under SB 299, the local soil and water conservation office offers two programs: Small Grain, and Working Lands Buffer Program.

The Drewes Farm is enrolled in the Small Grain Program. Tyler tells 13abc, "It'll help grain farmers incorporate wheat, oats, barley and rye into their operations, kind of give another product in the rotation, instead of back to the regular corn or beans. Which is somewhat typical for the area."

Under the Small Grain Program, the state provides incentives for those less-lucrative crops, and connects local farms to distribute manure more efficiently. That helps farmers identify spots that need nutrients, and those that don’t.

Matthew Browne, Area Conservation Technician explains, "If they feel the push then to spread acres in these wet months and winter months, that's when we get our nutrient loading in the waterways."

Browne says that the Working Lands Buffer Program is another great way for farmers to get state help. He says the program “establishes a semi-permanent buffer between the farm fields and a stream or a ditch. So that vegetation will help capture the nutrients before they hit the waterway."

The Ohio Farm Bureau reports that $3.5 million has already been awarded to farms in Northwest Ohio, with some of that money going to nearly 400 acres in Lucas County alone.

This is the first year for the program, and the timing is perfect. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- or NOAA -- predicts a severe algal bloom on Lake Erie, with already-high levels of phosphorus in the Maumee River.

Farmers interested in applying for assistance should follow this link.