A tour of the northwest Ohio farms, sponsored by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, showcased for several journalists from across Ohio farms that have embraced water-conservation and nutrient-efficient measures being promoted by the state agricultural industry.
Stops were at Kellogg Farms and Kurt Farms in Hardin County, and Stateler Family Farms in Hancock County.
Those farms are among several engaged in a five-year, $1 million research project called the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network, which began in the fall of 2015. Funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that President Trump is trying to eliminate, the research project is a collaborative effort between the farm bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to show which measures work best.
“We don’t want other people coming in and telling us what we can and cannot do. We’re trying to be proactive,” Bill Kellogg, co-owner of Kellogg Farms, where 305 of the site’s 5,000 acres are being studied for farming practices such as cover crops, subsurface nutrient placement, and reduced tillage.
The other co-owner, Mr. Kellogg’s son, Shane Kellogg, showed a $177,000 rig used to inject fertilizer underground — a huge machine he said helped reduce the farm’s fertilizer bill about $100,000, from $400,000 to $300,000, through more efficient application.
Although Ohio State University researcher Kevin King has found a large percentage of nutrients get into area waterways by migrating through soil into drainage tiles, preliminary results from a multi-university research project headed by the University of Michigan suggests farmers could lose fewer nutrients with more use of injection technology.
At Kurt Farms, owner Chris Kurt and Aaron Heilers, NRCS project manager, explained how 168 acres from that 470-acre site are used for Mr. King’s edge-of-field research, a multiyear project tracking nutrient runoff and tile drainage. It is one of about 30 across Ohio in that project.
The site also is being used for research into the effectiveness of two-stage ditches.
Each site participating in edge-of-field research has about $30,000 of tracking equipment, Mr. Heilers said.
“This tells us exactly what is leaving the site,” he said, demonstrating the stationary field monitor.
Mr. Kurt said it’s important for farmers to help advance research into better efficiency.
“I want to find better ways to keep my fertilizer in the field,” he said. “It’s doing me more good there than in the waterway.”
Each of the three farms are used to grow corn and soybeans. But Stateler Family Farms, which also grows wheat, operates a 7,200-head hog concentrated animal feeding operation. The Statelers have committed 243 of their 600 acres to the research project.
Research there includes a deeper look into how well manure from the hog operation stays in the soil. Water quality is being monitored at two local creeks.
For the past nine years, manure has been applied nine inches beneath the surface with a 7,000-gallon tank that, when loaded, weighs 80,000 pounds, co-owner Anthony Stateler said.
The farm can hold up to 2.3 million gallons of manure, enough capacity for about 11 months worth of hog waste. It applies its manure across its 600 acres and another 150 acres of nearby cropland, Mr. Stateler said.
The Statelers showed journalists the facility where piglets are taken from their mothers after 21 days. They stay there until they’re old enough to be transferred to another part of the facility.
Joe Cornely, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation spokesman, said national policy toward farming has changed several times since the early 1970s, when farmers were encouraged by then-USDA Secretary Earl Butz to farm all of their acreage.
Now there’s an emphasis on buffer strips, windbreaks, and other techniques to reduce erosion and keep algae-forming nutrients away from ditches, creeks, and streams.
Many of the changes have come since the early 2000s, when urban sprawl resulted in rampant housing, retail, and industrial development into rural areas, shrinking available acreage to farm.
That occurred as Earth’s population continued to grow and climate change brought more flooding and drought, Mr. Cornely said.
Earth’s population is expected to surpass 10 billion people by 2050. It is 7.2 billion now.
“If you think we’re here because of the Toledo incident, we’re not. We’re here because of changing expectations in the agricultural industry,” Mr. Cornely said.
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