H2Ohio is a water quality program that offers monetary incentives to farmers/producers for implementing conservation-focused best management practices (BMPs). The aim is to encourage producers within the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) to adopt practices that will help decrease phosphorus runoff from agricultural land. Lake Erie has been the focus of this project due to the harmful algal blooms that have occurred there. In 2020, the H2Ohio program was rolled out to fourteen counties within the WLEB. In 2021, the Ohio Department of Agriculture rolled out H2Ohio to the remaining ten counties within the WLEB, Richland County being one of them!
What It Consists Of
A suite of data driven BMPs make up the program. They include: establishing cover crops, adding small grains into your crop rotation, implementation of an SWCD/ODA approved nutrient management plan, manure/fertilizer placement and rate, and drainage water management.
Why It Matters
H2Ohio is a voluntary program that offers incentives to farmers who meet the requirements for the specific BMPs. In addition to the incentives, producers have the opportunity through H2Ohio to participate in the stewardship of their natural resources, as well as the resources of Ohioans next door or downstream. Again, the goal of the program is to decrease nutrient runoff from farmland. Additionally, the H2Ohio practices may assist in increasing soil health, conserving soil nutrients, and providing opportunities to try things a little differently.
For more information, visit: https://h2.ohio.gov/about-h2ohio/.
Lake Erie CREP H2Ohio Program
The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a USDA Farm Bill conservation program that offers farmers and landowners financial compensation for taking cropland out of production and establishing conservation practices such as buffer strips, grasslands, and wetlands to improve water quality for a contract period of 15 years. The new H2Ohio Water Quality Incentive Program is being offered in combination with Lake Erie CREP and provides a onetime payment of $2,000 per acre for new Lake Erie CREP wetlands and forested riparian buffers (buffer strip with trees) to help improve water quality in the Lake Erie watershed. More wetlands and forested riparian buffers will help reduce phosphorus runoff into Lake Erie. Both conservation practices are on the H2Ohio top 10 list of phosphorus reduction practices.
Examples of Conservation Practices
Farming operations often utilize frequently traveled areas to access particular areas of the farm. Sometimes these areas become rutted, muddy, pot-holes. This can be due to an unsuitable soil type in that area, the physical location of the area or poor weather conditions. An Access Road can be used to protect these areas. They are developed by installing a particular depth of gravel material to withstand frequent travel. They protect soil, water, air, wildlife and other adjacent resource areas.
Many farming operations frequently use fertilizers and chemicals to maintain their crops. Rather than hire a company to apply these chemicals, an operator may want to apply their own. To do this they need to have storage tanks on-site to store the appropriate chemicals. If any of the tanks were to develop a leak it could be a big threat to natural resources. An Agrichemical Facility addresses this situation. It is a designed basin with an impermeable liner where all storage tanks are placed. In the event of a leak or a spill while mixing, all chemicals would be contained, pumped out and disposed of properly.
Livestock operations need to keep their animals within certain areas. Also, it has been found to be beneficial to have smaller pasture fields and rotate livestock within these fields at regular intervals. This promotes healthier vegetation in the pastures, better nourished livestock and erosion protection.
A filter strip, typically adjacent to a ditch, stream or river, is an area of vegetation established for removing sediment, organic material, and other pollutants from runoff and wastewater.
When a whole field is tilled and planted, there may be areas where two hill slopes come together (what we call a swale). During a rain, water will naturally flow to these swales and eventually to a stream or creek. In some instances, the slope, soil type, tilling type, tilling direction or all of the above are not adequate to hold the soil in place. Eventually, these swales become gullies that can be difficult or impossible to cross and they carry sediment to the steam or creek. Grassed Waterways are engineered, shallow grassed channels designed to handle the water flow, keep soil in place while allowing cropping equipment to safely cross over it.
Grazing Management (Prescribed)
This is the management of the kind of animal, animal number, grazing distribution, length of grazing and/or browsing periods and timing of use to provide grazed plants sufficient recovery time to meet planned objectives. The management of livestock movements is based on the rate of plant growth, available forage, and allowable utilization target. Proper grazing management will maintain and improve vegetation and soil conditions, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat.
Heavy Use Pad
Livestock operations utilize certain areas frequently to feed and water their animals. Sometimes these areas become rutted, muddy pot-holes. This can be due to an unsuitable soil type in that area, the physical location of the area, poor weather conditions or frequent use. A Heavy Use Pad can be used to protect these highly used areas. They are developed by installing a particular depth of gravel material to withstand the frequent travel. They protect soil, water, air, wildlife and other adjacent resource areas.
Seasonal High Tunnel
This practice is intended to extend the growing season earlier and later in the growing year. Tunnel systems are designed to extend the cropping season and benefit natural resources by improving plant quality, soil quality, and water quality through methods such as reduced nutrient and pesticide transport. A seasonal high tunnel is a polyethylene-covered structure with or without electricity, heating, or mechanical ventilation systems. High tunnels modify the climate to create more favorable growing conditions for vegetable and other specialty crops grown in the natural soil beneath it. Crops must be grown in the soil under the high tunnel, not in pots, growing racks or hydroponics systems. The structure utilizes passive solar heating and can use a supplemental heating system, if required. Ventilation is usually provided by manually rolling the sides up or down. However, mechanical systems may be used to improve effectiveness. High tunnel systems are not greenhouses.
Nutrient management involves managing the amount, placement, and timing of plant nutrients to obtain optimum yields and minimize the risk of surface and groundwater pollution.
The 4Rs were created to educate and promote wise nutrient management to conserve water quality and soil health using four “rights”:
- Right Source: Ensure a balanced supply of essential nutrients, considering both naturally available sources and the characteristics of specific products, in plant available forms.
- Right Rate: Assess and make decisions based on soil nutrient supply and plant demand.
- Right Time: Assess and make decisions based on the dynamics of crop uptake, soil supply, nutrient loss risks, and field operation logistics.
- Right Place: Address root-soil dynamics and nutrient movement, and manage spatial variability within the field to meet site-specific crop needs and limit potential losses from the field.
Waste Storage Facility
The main byproduct of livestock operations is manure. Fortunately, manure is also a valuable resource, and it can be applied back on the land where it will provide nutrients and organic matter to the soil. However, manure cannot be applied at any time. Care must be taken to apply manure when the land is ready to receive it. It cannot be applied when the ground is saturated with rain, right before a rain event or on frozen-snow covered ground. Manure obviously cannot be applied when agricultural crops are actively growing. As you can see it can be difficult to find suitable conditions to apply the manure. A lot of operations do not have the adequate manure storage capacity to wait for the ideal application situation. A Waste Storage Facility provides a stable facility with enough storage capacity to hold the waste until ideal land application opportunity exist. The storage structure types include liquid waste storage ponds or tanks, and solid waste stacking structures.
Windbreaks or shelterbelts are single to multiple rows of trees and possibly shrubs planted in a linear fashion. They are established upwind of the areas to be protected. Windbreaks and shelterbelts are primarily used to reduce soil erosion from wind; protect crops, livestock, and farmsteads from wind; area related microclimate effects; control snow deposition; and improve air quality by intercepting drifting chemicals and odors.
Conservation practices contribute to energy efficiency and fuel savings.
The Benefits of a Conservation Plan
A conservation plan ensures that the land’s unique natural resources are managed in the best possible way, while maintaining sustainability and productivity.
Other benefits of a conservation plan:
- Help landowner comply with environmental regulations
- Qualify landowner for USDA conservation programs that can help him or her implement conservation measures
- Adapts to changing farm or ranch operational goals
- Establishes an implementation schedule that fits landowner’s timetable and resources