Taking the bloom and gloom out of Lake Erie

NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory .

Green algae in the Great Lakes. Photo credit: NOAA

It’s been one year since a massive algae bloom in Lake Erie contaminated the drinking water of more than 500,000 Ohio residents.

Since that time, we’ve seen an increase in legislative actions and governmental commitments to reduce fertilizer runoff. Yet the harmful algae that showed up last summer have bloomed again. This summer’s catastrophic rains have caused farm fields to flood, sending fertilizer into Lake Erie. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this year’s algae bloom could be the second largest on record.

Nutrient efficiency and soil health practices can create a powerful antidote to Lake Erie’s bloom and doom cycle. But farmers need more support and guidance in making changes on their farm. And they need to know that these practices won’t reduce yields.

That’s why an innovative platform called SUSTAIN™ is taking off. SUSTAIN provides agricultural retailers with training on the best tools and practices for reducing fertilizer runoff and increasing soil health – but also focuses on maintaining productivity. Earlier this summer, a group of central Ohio retailers became SUSTAIN authorized – and while it’s not a silver bullet, this effort has enormous potential to keep Lake Erie’s algae blooms at bay.

SUSTAIN growth

SUSTAIN was created by United Suppliers, a cooperative of 560 locally owned and controlled agricultural retailers, in coordination with EDF. The platform is reaching farmers directly since it authorizes and informs their primary source of information and advice – their retailer.

By the end of 2014, more than 100 sales employees were authorized as SUSTAIN advisors and another 100 will be authorized by the end of 2015, across Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota, and Ohio. Any farmer visiting those SUSTAIN locations will be getting the best available advice on how to navigate the fertilizer runoff world. And they’ll have access to proven, field-tested products and techniques to improve nutrient use efficiency and soil health – and protect their yields.

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Newly authorized SUSTAIN retailers in Dublin, Ohio

Training the trainers in Western Lake Erie

In late July I attended a SUSTAIN training in Dublin, Ohio. The goal was to educate the staff of Novus Ag, one of United Suppliers’ retailers, about fertilizer management so that they could advise their farmer customers.

The training provided Novus Ag staff with key insights they could communicate to farmer clients, including that fertilizer runoff doesn’t just lead to air and water pollution, it also costs growers money. Retailers learned about the “4Rs” of fertilizer management, how to implement these principles, what efficiency tools are available, and how to successfully bring these tools to their farmer clients.

With the high level of enthusiasm I saw from the staff at Novus Ag and the commitment of United Suppliers to get 10 million acres enrolled in SUSTAIN by 2020, both the growers’ bottom lines and Lake Erie will benefit.

Related Links:

Will Ohio’s proposed fertilizer legislation solve the runoff problem? >>

More reasons to embrace food sustainability >>

USDA’s new climate strategy is a huge step in the right direction >>

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