Farm Bureau presidents converge on Capitol Hill

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Carroll County Farm Bureau President Bernie Heffelbower and Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH) discuss agriculture issues relevent to the area.

WASHINGTON, DC – Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) presidents “took to the hill’ during the 72nd annual Presidents’ Trip March 13-15 to Washington, DC, to talk agriculture with their congressmen.

Among those in attendance were Bernie Heffelbower, Carroll County; John Seleski, Harrison County; John Grafton, Jefferson County; and Jim Rowe, Tuscarawas County. The four counties are under the direction of Michele Specht, organizational director. Leigh Ann Rutledge of The Free Press Standard, attended and wrote the following stories.

Farm Bureau members attended breakfast meetings with Senators Sherrod Brown (OH-D) and Rob Portman (OH-R) and met with Representative Bill Johnson (R-6th District). The group heard updates on water quality, Farm Bill, infrastructure, and trade.

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was a surprise guest and explained how the EPA does business.

Ted McKinney, the first undersecretary of Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), addressed the group and Representative Bob Gibbs (R-7th District) presented his annual farm forum, which included a visit from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

With a full-schedule, presidents had only a few spare minutes to enjoy a meal at the Old Ebbitt Grill and take a night tour of the city with stops at the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Memorial.

Some attendees had the opportunity to visit the Canadian Embassy to “talk trade” and visit the Smithsonian Museum’s exhibit, “2018 Year of the Tractor.”

 

Talking water quality….

AFBF HEADQUARTERS – Staff members of the OFBF discussed water quality myths at the headquarters of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

Yvonne Lesko, vice president of Public Policy, OFBF, and Jack Irvin, senior director state and national affairs, OFBF, talked about these myths.

“Water quality is a big challenge in Ohio especially in the Western Lake Erie Basin,” said Lesko.

The Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) spans the Midwest states of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. The basin has ten sub-watersheds, including the Upper and Lower Maumee. These extend from the headwaters in Allen County, IN, and flow northeast through Toledo and into Lake Erie.

The WLEB is almost 6 million acres in size. The basin drains portions of 29 counties into the shallow western third of Lake Erie. Although land is used predominantly for agriculture (60-80 percent), the basin is home to over two million citizens. The largest metropolitan area in the basin is the port and industrial city of Toledo, which the WLEB serves as the municipal water source for Toledo.

Western Lake Erie has an average depth of less than 25 feet, yet it supports a commercial fishing industry and recreational opportunities for millions of people. The area is also home to diverse plant and wildlife communities. These include several federal and state endangered and threatened species in the basin such as: birds, plants, turtles, snakes and mussels.

Myth #1: Regulatory vs. voluntary solutions – “Government relies on voluntary efforts by farmers to protect water and those voluntary efforts aren’t working.”

Lesko told the group there is a huge difference between government “not doing anything” and government not doing what activists want. Their claims that farms and manure are not regulated are false.

Ohio has multiple regulatory systems in place including:

  • The Livestock Environmental Permitting Program – Program staff are responsible for regulating how Ohio’s largest livestock and poultry farms handle manure and waste water, as well as manage flies, rodents and other pests;
  • The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)- The Clean Water Act prohibits anybody from discharging “pollutants” through a “point source” into a “water of the United States” unless they have an NPDES permit;

The Ohio Agricultural Pollution Abatement Program, Certified Livestock Management Credentialing; Senate Bill 150 which requires fertilizer application training and certification and Senate Bill 1, which restricts manure application to times when weather and soil conditions are safe (within the WLEB).

 

Myth #2: Manure is not regulated – “Manure can be applied at three to four times the rate of commercial fertilizer.” “The limit for commercial fertilizer is 40 ppm while the limit for manure is 150 ppm (parts per million – a convenient unit of measurement for indicating the concentration of fertilizer solutions.”

Irvin and Lesko both reiterated there are multiple ways manure and commercial fertilizer is regulated. The 150 ppm is an environmental threshold and current science adding more phosphorus is not an environmentally sound practice when soil phosphorus test levels are above 150 ppm, regardless of the source of phosphorus, manure or commercial.

Between 40 and 50 ppm of phosphorus soil test levels is the point at which there is limited or no economic gain from buying and applying additional commercial fertilizer. It has nothing to do with environmental consequences. Claims equating an environmental threshold to an economic threshold are invalid.

 

Myth #3 explored the issue “an impairment designation is the only way to save the lake.”

The Ohio EPA and Governor John Kasich are in the process of designating the open waters of Lake Erie’s Western Basin (from the Michigan/Ohio state line to Marblehead Lighthouse) as impaired for recreation due to harmful algae and drinking water due to occurrences of microcystin. Previously only the shoreline area of the Western Basin and drinking water intakes had been designated as impaired.