Ohio expands statewide water quality initiative for agricultural producers
Ohio’s Department of Agriculture is expanding its H2Ohio program. The state initiative began in 2019 for farmers around the Western Lake Erie Basin. The expansion means farmers all across the state will be eligible to participate beginning in 2024.
H2Ohio is a partnership between the state’s department of agriculture, the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. It’s a long-term plan to improve water quality, partly in response to the toxic algal blooms on Lake Erie caused by fertilizer runoff from farms.
It’s funded by the Ohio General Assembly with an investment of $270 million in the 2024-2025 biennium budget, according to the state’s department of agriculture.
The program financially incentivizes farmers who voluntarily enroll their farmland and implement best management practices such as setting up a nutrient management plan, plant cover crops — like radishes, clover or legumes that naturally fertilize the soil and prevent erosion — or buy specialized equipment.
Ty Higgins, senior director of communications at the Ohio Farm Bureau, said it can be costly for farmers to take on those practices on their own.
“We're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Higgins said. "But this funding from H2Ohio is helping those farmers, not just with equipment costs, but also just finding different ways to implement what they're already doing and do it better to make sure that those nutrients stay right where they are on the farm.”
Tracy Intihar, the assistant director at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said the state has seen measurable success since the program launched, which is why its expanding it beyond the Lake Erie Basin.
“We believe it works. And we've learned a lot in the last three years about the value of a nutrient management plan and that these practices are important to reducing nutrient runoff,” Intihar said. “ Whether you're a farmer or not, we know that water is important and whether it's a river or a lake near you, we need water to thrive and succeed and live.”
So far, the state has enrolled more than 1.5 million farm acres into the program. The initiative has also led to a reduction in over 300,000 pounds of phosphorus runoff into watersheds.
Enrollment for farmers outside of the Western Lake Erie Basin will open in early 2024, but it’s limited to a total of 500,000 new acres statewide.
Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.