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ASHLAND — One of the biggest Ohio news stories of the 2000s has been the growing concern for water quality, with special focus on the Lake Erie algal blooms.

As we’ve learned more about the causes and contributors to these blooms, there’s been an increased focus on reducing phosphorus loss, especially on farmland.

That’s why Ashland Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is partnering with Ohio State University to offer phosphorus modeling at no cost to Ashland County farmers.

“Modeling is a great tool to allow farmers to objectively look at their management practices and see how those practices compare with other choices,” said Erica White, Jerome Fork watershed coordinator at Ashland SWCD. “Farmers can see how switching to minimum till or no-till compares to conventional tillage, or they can see how planting cover crops may reduce the phosphorus they lose from their fields.”

As watershed coordinator, White focuses on implementing conservation practices in the Jerome Fork watershed, from cover crops to precision conservation tools like On-Field Ohio.

“On-Field Ohio! Is an online, interactive program that provides average estimates for erosion and phosphorus runoff,” White said. “I work with farmers to input their management data and practices, then we look at how voluntary changes in their management practices can impact their ability to meet their phosphorus runoff reduction goals.”

For example, White helps farmers map their fields into the tool, which gives detailed information on the soil type and slope. Then, she inputs the farmer’s current management practices, such as fall chisel plowing, spring discing and field cultivating before planting corn, followed by no-till planting soybeans.

Then, they can compare how those nutrient losses would change by shifting to strip tillage or no tillage.

“The power of the tool is that it allows farmers to compare erosion and phosphorus runoff outcomes across crop management scenarios and soil phosphorus levels — all without having to take the risk of and time of implementing those practices in the field to see how the results play out.”

White says evaluating these changes is especially important in today’s agricultural environment, with farmers facing a whole new set of challenges when it comes to protecting our state’s water quality. And those challenges are intensified by Ohio’s changing weather patterns, which are bringing more frequent, higher-intensity rain events to our landscape.

“All of these tools are designed to not only improve water quality but also to save farmers money by keeping their nutrients on their field and out of our waterways,” White said. “And the best part is, our office has partnered to be able to offer this program at no cost to Ashland County farmers.”

To use the On-Field Ohio! tool, farmers should contact White at 419-281-7645 or ewhite@ashlandcounty.org for more information.

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