By Tom Driscoll, government relations representative, National Farmers Union
The Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) is very sensitive to pollution and subject to sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen loading from a variety of sources. A recent study found that producers are taking the lead in cleaning up the Basin, and new efforts announced by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will help farmers in the watershed make even further progress. As much as Ohio, Indiana and Michigan farmers have already pitched in, more work is needed to adequately address harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.
A new report issued through NRCS’ Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) measured progress made by producers in the region. Notably, at least one conservation practice has been implemented on 99 percent of cropland acres in the Basin. In 2012, this resulted in 81 percent reductions in sediment loss, 36 percent reductions in nitrogen loss, and 75 percent reduction in phosphorous loss.
Farmers have made impressive gains for the WLEB through voluntary conservation practices so far, but more progress is needed. Further conservation gains yet to be made will be harder to achieve since producers have taken care of so many of the readily identifiable conservation opportunities already. To close the gap, NRCS is driving a three year initiative, the Western Lake Erie Basin Initiative, for fiscal years 2016-2018 to expand financial and technical resources in the WLEB. NRCS will invest $41 million of Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) assistance in the area. Combined with the $36 million in NRCS state EQIP resources available in the WLEB, farmers in the Basin will have access to nearly $77 million to fund voluntary conservation endeavors through EQIP over the next three years.
Priority conservation strategies include avoiding excess nutrient application, controlling nutrient and sediment movement, trapping nutrient and sediment loss and managing hydrological pathways to reduce these losses. To learn more, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan farmers should check out the NRCS resources on the Western Lake Erie Basin Initiative and visit their local USDA Service Center.
Are you a farmer in the WLEB? Have you made any changes on your farm to reduce nutrients or sediment in Lake Erie? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments below and stay tuned here at NFU for more news on conservation opportunities!