Five Years In: An Update on the Conservation Practices’ Research & Results

To dive into the latest research and results from the Ohio Demonstration Farm sites, take a look at our 2021 Project Update.

What you’ll find inside:

  • Ohio’s Water Quality Problem
  • About the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network
  • How to Improve Quality through Reliable Conservation Practices
  • The Impact of the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network
  • New Satellite Research Sites Added
  • Latest Research, Resources, and Tools
  • What’s Ahead for the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network
  • How to Implement Conservation Practices to Reach Your Land Management Goals
  • The Demonstration Farm Families and their Conservation Practices

Rainfall Pattern Increase in Ohio

In recent years rainfall has been more frequent and intense. These rainfall patterns have continued to change over the last 30 years, trending upward. Aaron Heilers, project manager of the Demo Farms Network, discusses how these rainfall episodes affect soil nutrients and how farmers can properly manage their farms so they become more resilient.

Ohio’s Water Quality Problem

Introduction to Ohio’s Water Quality Problem

In 2014, a toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie caused nearly half a million people in the Toledo area to be without tap water for two days. The water crisis generated headlines around the world, drawing attention to an increasingly serious problem with the quality of Ohio’s water, specifically in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

While there are many factors contributing to harmful algal blooms (see sidebar), scientists agree the biggest culprit is excess dissolved phosphorus, which is found in animal manure, many commercial fertilizers and municipal wastewater. Phosphorus is essential to producing food, fuel and fiber but can drain from fields and feed the growth of harmful algal blooms. Before 1972, point-source pollution from factories, for instance, was the main source of the phosphorus load into Lake Erie. A reduction of that pollution resulted in harmful algal blooms not being a problem until recently. Today, experts estimate up to 93% of the phosphorus load comes from nonpoint sources such as agriculture.*

As the state’s largest land user, agriculture has shouldered a majority of the blame. For decades, the agriculture industry has been working to reduce sediment loss from fields, and technology advances have improved the way nutrients are managed. A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows 99% of cropland acres in the Western Lake Erie Basin are managed with at least one conservation practice. Despite these efforts, an increasing amount of dissolved reactive phosphorus has been entering Lake Erie.

Determined to be proactive, Ohio’s agriculture industry has stepped forward, acknowledging its role in the problem and desire to find workable solutions. With scientists agreeing that a multipronged approach is needed to protect Ohio’s water, Ohio Farm Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) joined forces to address the issue. Concentrating their efforts on the Western Lake Erie Basin, they came up with the idea of the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network in northwestern Ohio. Its ultimate goal is to show how clean water and productive agriculture can coexist.

What are harmful algal blooms?

Harmful algal blooms are mostly caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients found in many sources including animal manure and many commercial fertilizers. Nutrient pollution flowing in Lake Erie and other bodies of water come from farm field runoff, sewer overflows, leaking septic systems and wastewater treatment plant discharges among other sources. The thick slimy blue-green algal blooms have closed Lake Erie beaches, caused illness in humans and animals and negatively impacted the lake’s $11 billion tourism industry. The Ohio Phosphorus Task Force has concluded that agriculture is a major source of phosphorus for Lake Erie with some experts saying agriculture contributes as much as two-thirds of the phosphorus load.


*Source: Achieving phosphorus reduction levels in the Lake Erie in the Journal of Great Lakes Research

Part 4: The Conservation Practices

Aaron Heilers, project manager of the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms, talks about what science they are learning during this 5-year initiative. Starting with the 4 R’s of nutrient management, learn more about what other recommendations have been found and how to implement them in your operation.

Ep. 8: Jessica D’Ambrosio, Water Quality

On this episode of Field Day with Jordan Hoewischer, we talk to Jessica D’Ambrosio, Western Lake Erie Basin agriculture project director for The Nature Conservancy, the largest conservation organization in the world. D’Ambrosio says The Nature Conservancy is always looking for strategies and work that can be applied across a greater landscape, so not just good enough for Ohio or the Western Lake Erie Basin, but also programs, practices and strategies that can be adopted all over to help everyone facing these issues.

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