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Farmers could need certification when using fertilizer in Ohio, response to Lake Erie algae

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TOLEDO, Ohio — A new rule being considered by Ohio lawmakers would impact farmers and take a step toward reducing toxic algae in Lake Erie.

The proposal would require large farm operations to only apply synthetic or chemical fertilizers on their land if it's done by someone certified by the state or working with someone who is certified.

The goal is to cut down on the amount of fertilizer that runs off fields into streams and rivers and then winds up in Lake Erie.

Phosphorus from farm fertilizer runoff and sewage treatment plants feed the algae that leave behind toxins that can kill animals and foul drinking water.

Algae blooms during warm weather months in recent years have turned the lake's water into a pea soup color. They've become a threat to the lake's tourism and fishing industries and toxins produced by the algae have contributed to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can't survive.

The bill, which would take effect in 2017, gained approval from the House agriculture committee on Tuesday after earlier passing through the Ohio Senate. The proposal would apply to farm operations with at least 50 noncontiguous acres.

Ohio Environmental Council spokesman Jack Shaner called the proposed rule a modest improvement. He said more needs to be done, including banning farmers from spreading manure on frozen and snow-covered ground

"Streams don't know if the phosphorous is coming from fertilizer or manure," he told The Blade (http://bit.ly/1j8Y3v1). "Today we got fertilizer. Tomorrow we'll keep going after manure."

State Rep. Mike Sheehy, a Democrat from the Toledo suburb of Oregon, said he was concerned that a proposal limiting the use of manure on frozen fields was removed the bill.

"There's a causal relationship between early spring thaw and the high algae blooms in the western basin of Lake Erie," he said.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture would oversee the certification process, including coming up with training requirements and fees.

In another change, the state's agriculture and natural resources departments want to bring all oversight of farmers applying manure under a single agency.

As of now, the agriculture department only regulates manure management of large livestock farms. The new proposal would allow the agriculture department to also oversee small livestock farms.


Information from: The Blade, http://www.toledoblade.com/

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