Thursday, September 10, 2015

Western Lake Erie Basin – Agriculture taking action

Each summer, Lake Erie goes through a shift in color, as the normal dark blue of the water becomes mixed with the swirls and swaths of vibrant green from algal blooms that spread throughout the shallower sections of the lake. This vibrant green color comes from a population explosion of algae - known as a cyanobacterium - which is touched off by a combination of warm waters, sunshine and an abundant supply of nutrients.  “Blooms generally occur where there are high levels of nutrients present, together with the occurrence of warm, sunny, calm conditions. However, human activity often can trigger or accelerate algal blooms. Natural sources of nutrients such as phosphorus or nitrogen compounds can be supplemented by a variety of human activities. For example, in rural areas, agricultural runoff from fields can wash fertilizers into the water. In urban areas, nutrient sources can include treated wastewaters from septic systems and sewage treatment plants, and urban storm water runoff that carry nonpoint-source pollutants such as lawn fertilizers.” [1]  “The severity of the Algal Bloom is dependent on the phosphorus inputs from March 1st to July 31st, which is known as the loading season. The cause of algae blooms is complex; water temperature, lack of agitation, rainfall and runoff from farms and lawns, zebra mussels and the impacts of climate change all can contribute to the problem.”[2]

Farmers and the agricultural focused agencies and industry are doing their part to address this challenge. While the Federal Government has several sources of funding made available to the farmers in the Basin, it’s the education component that are getting farmers to make the change from conventional farming to conservation farming.  At these events, they are learning how the nutrients that are coming off their fields play a part in the algal blooms.  The Soil and Water Conservation Districts along with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture have been putting on educational events for the farmers in the Basin. Those events include field days, trips on Lake Erie, and educational workshops for both farmers and their CCA’s. 

The Allen County SWCD, the Tri-State Watershed Alliance and the Soil Health Partnership organized a field day in Harlan, IN.  The field day featured presentations on soil testing for soil health, the importance of cover crops, what cover crops means for insurance, crop crops and herbicide carryover, and hands on demonstration with cover crops planting equipment. During lunch, there was a presentation on the WLEB RCPP and how farmers can sign-up for the assistance. In addition, we asked the AG retailers, CCAs, and farmers the amount of acres that have in the WLEB, and we had over 200,000 acres between all of them.

 Cover crop hands on demonstration

Discussion on soil sampling 

Steuben County SWCD partnered with the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative (CCSI) to hold a field day featuring Mr. Ray Weil.  Dr. Weil is a professor of soil science at the University of Maryland and teaches farmers the importance of soil health. The event was held at Moody Farms in Fremont, IN.  The event was a huge success and we were able to get several conventional farmers in attendance, who were very engaged during the soil pit session.  The more educational event we can do, the better chance we have at reducing the amount of runoff from our soils.  The farmers in the Basin have been actively involved in conservation farming for years.  For the past few years, the farmers in Indiana have really set the pace regarding conservation and looking at moving their farm operation towards the systems approach to conservation farming, where you have a suite of Best Management Practices including in-field, edge-of-field and in-stream practices.

Dr. Ray Weils 

Dr. Ray Weil’s in a soil pit 

In effort to showcase how the State of Indiana has been working on reducing the nutrients that flow into our waterways, we have been working on a Nutrient Reduction Strategy that will capture present and future endeavors in Indiana, which will a positive impact on the state’s waters.  This report will be completed by the end of October 2015.  Voluntary conservation efforts from private landowners in Indiana with support from the Indiana Conservation Partnership have reduced nutrients and sediment from entering Indiana’s waterways.  Since 2013, we have reduced; 1,209,756 tons of sediment, 2,513,693 pounds of nitrogen and 1,250,592 pounds of Phosphorus.[3] These reductions were reduced by our farmers using Best Management Practices such as no-till, reduced tillage, cover crops, grassed waterways, wetland enhancement, filter strips, nutrient management and riparian buffers. The data is collected from the Indiana Conservation Partnership and then it’s aggregated using the USEPA’s Region 5 model to show the total nutrient and sediment reductions. If you would like more information about Indiana’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, please see

[1] “Algal Blooms in fresh Water,” September 9, 2015,
[2] “USDA To Expand Investment In Water Quality within Western Lake Erie Basin,” USDA/August 29, 2015, 
[3]Indiana State Department of Agriculture. (2015).  Indiana Nutrient and Sediment Load Reductions.  [Flyer] NP

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