News
News Home
Quick Bites
Exploradio
News Archive
News Channel
Special Features
NPR
nowplaying
On AirNewsClassical
Loading...
  
School Closings
WKSU Support
Funding for WKSU is made possible in part through support from the following businesses and organizations.

Hennes Paynter Communications

Lehmans

NOCHE


For more information on how your company or organization can support WKSU, download the WKSU Media Kit.

(WKSU Media Kit PDF icon )


Donate Your Vehicle to WKSU

Programs Schedule Make A Pledge Member BenefitsFAQ/HelpContact Us
Environment


Lake Erie's algae crisis part one: From farm to lakeshore
Ferterlizer and other chemicals used on farms are a contributing factor to Lake Erie's algae
Story by KAREN SCHAEFER


 

Last year, a toxic algae bloom the size of Long Island carpeted Lake Erie and its shoreline from Toledo all the way to Cleveland and beyond. Scientists say it was even worse than the blooms of the 1960's, when Lake Erie was “unofficially” declared dead. Managing algae will be one of the key topics next week when researchers, environmental advocates and officials from several states, plus Canada, gather in Cleveland for a three day conference on the Great Lakes. Independent producer Karen Schaefer sets the stage with this two-part series on algae. She starts her reporting from what researchers say is the main source of the problem…Ohio’s farm fields.

Schaefer on the algae crisis

Other options:
Windows Media / MP3 Download (5:24)


In the farm fields of Northwest Ohio, making the connection between fertilizer and Lake Erie algae can be a hard sell.  Forty-eight year old Defiance County farmer Ben Keil shakes his head as he looks over 200-acres of drought-stricken corn.

“I don’t think most people realize how much money is involved in raising a crop.  It’s huge.”

Keil says this field alone cost him 86-thousand dollars to produce.  And he may not get much of a crop this year.

“That’s just inputs.  Fertilizer and seed and chemicals and spray.”

Keil has heard the arguments that what he does on his Northwest Ohio farmland contributes to the return of Lake Erie algae.  But he’s not sure what more he can do.  He’s already adopted the practice of seeding new crops directly into the residue of last year’s fields without plowing first, a technique called no-till agriculture.

“I do for the most part all no-till.  It’s a proven farming technique.  All the money spent on fuel you save, you know.”

Financial viability is the bottom line for most farmers here along the Maumee River.  The Maumee passes through 4.5-million acres of farmland before entering Lake Erie at Toledo.  Along the way it picks up a lot of topsoil from farm fields.  Attached to that soil are fine particles of phosphorus, one of the nutrients that helps crops grow, but also feeds algae blooms.  No-till farming has reduced particulate phosphorus runoff by nearly 40-percent.  But researchers from Heidelberg University say their thirty years of water quality data shows that another form of phosphorus – called dissolved phosphorus – has risen dramatically in recent years.  And to reduce that nutrient enough to curb Lake Erie algae blooms will take a whole new set of techniques.

 “You know what?  Where you are standing, right now, you are in the fat of the land.  Look at this soil.”

A few miles away from Ben Keil’s cornfield, USDA soil scientist Frank Gibbs is standing in a deep trench he’s dug in a field of soybeans growing through the stalks of last year’s corn crop.  He points to worm holes deep beneath the surface.

“The night crawlers come up.  You have this beautiful fine structure, even though this is heavy clay soil. “

The soil looks good and is less of an algae threat, because of a technique farmer Allen Dean used.  After harvesting his corn, but before planting beans, Dean sowed a cover crop of rye.  Cover crops help untilled soil remain porous and better able hold on to nutrients like dissolved phosphorus.

“The cover crop puts roots down, we’re opening the soil up naturally.  And I told Allen, compared to the way we used to farm?  We’re farming with nature.”

Cover crops are just one of the new practices researchers are urging Ohio farmers to adopt.  Another is to apply fertilizer exactly when and where it’s needed. This requires using expensive soil tests and GPS mapping of crop yields.  Recent studies also indicate that the timing of fertilizer applications is crucial.  It needs to go on only in the spring, and the fertilizer needs to be incorporated well into the soil, not just spread on top.  Again, that too would add to a farmer’s costs.  Amy Jo Klei is the Lake Erie coordinator for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

“Some of the new technologies that are very effective in the studies we’ve seen aren’t cheap, and they’re not free.  And they’re new technologies.  And I suppose for some farmers that’s a hurdle in itself.  And the cost.  It’s a huge burden right now.”

But Keil says there are new federal, state and local pilot programs available to help farmers pay for some of the increased costs of nutrient management.  Keil says these, along with education campaigns about new farming techniques, are beginning to bear fruit.  So far, efforts to reduce phosphorus are voluntary and the agriculture industry would like to keep it that way.  Groups like The Fertilizer Institute, a national trade association, have joined the effort to persuade farmers to change their practices, hoping to avoid regulation.  So have non-profits like the Nature Conservancy.

“Corn field, under:”

Back in Defiance County, farmer Ben Keil says anything that will help him produce a better crop is welcome.

“People think we don’t need farmers, we can go to the store to get our food.  Well, it all starts here.  It starts right here.”

While most agencies and studies consider farming practices to be the MAJOR source of Lake Erie algae problems, all sides agree there are other contributors, municipal sewage facilities being one. I’ll have more on algae and urban pollution in my next report tomorrow.

Add Your Comment
Name:

Location:

E-mail: (not published, only used to contact you about your comment)


Comments:




 
Page Options

Print this page

E-Mail this page / Send mp3

Share on Facebook



Stories with Recent Comments

Nature and nourishment down by the river at the Metroparks' Merwin's Wharf
I love QUICKBITES! I look forward to it every week. One question: is it possible to include a link to the restaurant or store that you profile? Thanks!

Canton's proposed Timken-McKinley school merger is drawing spirited debate
From a sports opinion Varsity would have a lot more talent to choose from So Im sure varsity sports would improve.Also Timkens name would be much more published...

Canton school board will decide whether to merge high schools
I really hope we can save those jobs, usually we try to cut budgets but the demand is still the same. Then we look bad a year or two after the descion is made. ...

FirstEnergy wants PUCO guarantees on nuclear and coal prices
Would just comment that the plant has admitted the following (as reporting in the Akron Beacon Journal): "The utility has said it may have difficulty keeping t...

Mozzarella's easy when you have a way with curd
Hello, Where can I get such a heater that you have? Does it hold temperature that you set? What brand and model is it? Thank you in advance!! :)

Pluto: A healthy LeBron James is the key for the rocky Cavs
It's time to back our Cleveland professional teams through thick and thin. I've seen management, players and coaches come and go and it hasn't changed a thing. ...

Legal marijuana group offers new details about ballot issue
Americans feel as if they should have the right to decide on their own if and when it is or is not a responsible time to have a drink or smoke a joint. The fac...

The PUCO is assessing what happened in Akron's AT&T outage
not the first time for that steam pipe break... happened in the late 70's when the office was being converted to electronic switch ESS.. was a big mess then but...

The freeze of green-energy standards hurts Ohio wind and solar industries
What do we do at night and when the wind isn't blowing? Where does the power come from to back-up these renewable sources?

Gov. Kasich may still face budget battles with Ohio lawmakers
Governor Kasich continues to disappoint many of us who voted for him when he was elected Governor four years ago. It is way past time for charter schools to b...

Copyright © 2015 WKSU Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

 
In Partnership With:

NPR PRI Kent State University

listen in windows media format listen in realplayer format Car Talk Hosts: Tom & Ray Magliozzi Fresh Air Host: Terry Gross A Service of Kent State University 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. NPR Senior Correspondent: Noah Adams Living on Earth Host: Steve Curwood 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. A Service of Kent State University