Farmers team up with conservationists to reduce nutrient runoff

Farmers team up with conservationists to reduce nutrient runoff

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Experts at the Understanding Harmful Algal Blooms conference stressed the importance of collaboration between conservationists
and farmers.

The project manager of Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network says it's in the best interest of farmers to start making changes in how they fertilize their fields and get rid of manure.

Farmer Aaron Heilers is on a mission to make sure farmers are not to blame for the nutrient runoff into Lake Erie contributing to the harmful algal blooms.

"Unfortunately agriculture is getting a lot of blame in this water quality crisis that we're having," said Aaron Heilers, project manager of the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network. "If we don't do anything voluntarily we're going to be forced to do things that may not be right for every farming operation out there. Ultimately that could change the whole agricultural landscape."

Heilers says the demonstration farms are testing out new techniques to show farmers that not all change is bad.

"A lot of the techniques, in field, edge of field and in stream practices," Heilers explained. "The demonstration farms have practices in each one of those categories."

Farming is a risky business and very dependent on the right conditions. Heilers says asking farmers to change their technique is a tough sell.

"When we ask them to do a certain conservation practice, whether that is a structural practice at the edge of the field or a practice where they utilizing their nutrients at a different level, that ups the risk of having something go wrong," Heilers said.

Dr. Jessica D'Ambrosio, the director of Western Lake Erie Basin Agricultural Project, believes the problem cannot be blamed on a single group. She says it is important for scientists to understand farmers concerns and for farmers to see the effect on the lake.

One example of recreation affected by the algal blooms is Maumee Bay State Park which has been red flagged, meaning it's unsafe to swim there because of excessive microsystin levels.

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