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Farmers evaluating fields after the thaw

Alex Green • Mar 18, 2014 at 9:10 AM

The heaviest snowfall in decades was not as brutal on Ottawa County farmers as it could have been.

So says Josh Gerwin, district conservationist at the United States Department of Agriculture.

In fact, the snow can be beneficial to crops like wheat.

“You want the snow to cover the wheat during the winter,” Gerwin said. “There were periods of good cover and other periods of no cover” The inconsistent winter, particularly periods when frigid winds blew without much snow on the ground, took its toll on the local wheat crop.

He said farmers will now see if a good growing environment exists for wheat in the upcoming harvest season.

If the crop proves to be dead, farmers may look to alter what they grow.

“With good wheat, (farmers can get) 80 to 90 bushels per acre,” Gerwin said. “Right now it might be 45 bushels per acre, which wouldn’t be worth (all the other expenses)”

He said this is the cost analysis farmers are calculating in the upcoming weeks to plan out their harvest season.

The heavy snowfall has plenty of effects outside of the wheat industry.

For the past few years, the ODNR and local farmers have been working together to reduce the amount of water erosion, or soil runoff from farm fields, that carries soil to Lake Erie. Erosion has been evident in the lake’s ongoing algal bloom problem.

The year 2011 was a wake-up call to farmers and legislators in Columbus as the lake turned a vivid green.

Gerwin said he’s been educating local farmers ever since.

“Local farmers do an excellent of having grass filter strips and not using too much fertilizer” he said.

And while farmers shoulder much of the blame for the lake’s change in color, Gerwin said farmers are generally much more responsible than a citizen applying fertilizer to his or her law.

“There are other sources of phosphorus runoff” he said.

With about 4 feet of snow in a handful of months, runoff in early 2014 was evident.

Extreme weather events, particularly big sleet and rain storms have been the main catalyst for runoff.

But Gerwin believes recent improvements to local farm fields and local citizens’ improving understanding of the runoff problem, could start to improve the lake’s health.

“Let’s see what the lake does this year,” Gerwin said. “If the algal bloom is not bad, I think the state will continue voluntary work with farm and land owners. If it’s bad, we’ll see what the state decides to do”

Gerwin, a farmer himself, said he does not want to see local farming regulated by the state.

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