Twenty farm groups in Ohio — just about every major organization — have joined forces and issued a joint letter to state farmers urging them to adopt responsible practices for using fertilizers.
The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, the state's largest ag group, wrote the letter and persuaded the other farm groups to sign on. The Farm Bureau has a little over 214,000 members.
But groups that include the Ohio Cattlemen's Association, Ohio Pork Producers Council, Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association and Ohio Dairy Producers Association also agreed to endorse the letter.
It was no small feat to get everyone to agree to put their official logos on the letter, said Larry Antosch, senior director for policy development and environmental policy at the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
"The intent was to make sure there was a uniform, unified message going out, and farmers were hearing a consistent message from all of their organizations," Antosch said.
The letter ties good fertilizer use to the fight to prevent harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie and elsewhere and urges farmers to adopt the "4R" principles: Using the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time and with the right placement.
"The harmful algal blooms that are driving public demands for solutions should not be blamed on farmers alone," the letter notes. "Municipalities, homeowners and other industries will be expected to do their share to address the problems. But so, too, will agriculture."
The letter points out that voluntary action is preferable to what could follow.
"If farmers don't do this on their own, there will be federal and state laws and regulations that will mandate how you farm," it notes.
The Farm Bureau's board was determined to show leadership on the issue, even as farmers realize that other problems such as overloaded municipal sewer systems and leaky septic tanks also need to be dealt with, Antosch said.
"We know that those other sources are being looked at and being addressed," he said. "Right now, let's do what we can do to essentially get agriculture out of the crosshairs."
An Ohio Environmental Council official said his group is pleased that the farm groups and the administration of Gov. John Kasich has shown leadership on the issue.
“The Ohio Environmental Council fully supports the use of voluntary conservation practices by farmers,” said Joe Logan, director of agriculture programs for the OEC.
"“Most farmers are conservation minded. But some, due to economic circumstances or their traditional farming practices, simply have not been willing to take full advantage of these programs. We hope the ag-coalition letter helps motivate those farmers to take the matter of responsible nutrient use more seriously," he said.
Logan said that more regulation may still be needed to fix the problem.