Ohio State Economists to Hold Water Quality Discussion During 2013 Farm Science Review

LONDON, Ohio – With increased understanding of the costs of agricultural runoff and its impact on water quality in Ohio, experts from Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences will discuss how the college works with Ohio farmers to lessen the potential for runoff from farmlands.

Agricultural economists from the college have conducted extensive analyses on water quality issues in Ohio and will present a panel discussion on the topic during this year’s Farm Science Review, Sept. 17-19 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, Ohio.

The panel discussion, “Water Quality: State and National Concerns and Consequences,” will be moderated by Matthew Roberts, an associate professor of agricultural economics, Sept. 17 at 10-11 a.m. in the Tobin Building at the Review. The panel will feature economists from the college’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics.

A goal of the discussion, Roberts said, is to help farmers, policymakers and others understand the economic impact of compromised water quality systems in Ohio.

“We hope to inform the discussion on agricultural nutrient management in Ohio with the goal of decreasing nutrient runoff into Ohio’s water resources,” he said. “There has been great research out of our department on agricultural practices that have fewer detrimental impacts on our region’s water systems, as well as research on the economic impact of compromised water resources at the local, state and regional levels, which we hope to share to further inform the water quality debate in Ohio.”

The panel will include Brent Sohngen, an environmental economics professor and leader of Ohio State’s Environmental Policy Initiative; Elena Irwin, an environmental and regional economics professor; and Barry Ward, an assistant professor and leader for Ohio State University Extension’s programming in production business management.

OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.

Sohngen’s research looks at the role of policy solutions in protecting the region’s water resources and focuses on the impact that agricultural conservation incentive programs have had on water quality. He said he’s found evidence that suggests that agricultural pollution abatement programs have had very little effect to date.

“The data show that over the past several decades, water quality in the U.S. appears to be on a decline despite the fact that since 1990 more than $2 billion per year has been spent on agricultural conservation programs nationwide that aim to improve water quality,” Sohngen said. “For example, in 1996, 36 percent of measured rivers and streams were impaired, while by 2010 this figure had reached 56 percent.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the leading cause of water quality impairment in this country is agricultural production, he said.

Irwin’s research focuses on land use economics and the intersection of human and natural resource systems. She has conducted extensive analyses on the value of the ecosystem services that Lake Erie provides.

“Lake Erie is a vital economic, ecological and recreational resource for the Great Lakes region and the nation at large, providing a home to thousands of wildlife species, drinking water for millions of people and a billion-dollar fishing industry,” she said. “At the same time, Lake Erie is extremely vulnerable, not only because it is physically the shallowest, but also, more importantly, because it is the most heavily used of all the Great Lakes. 

“The Lake Erie basin also boasts the largest percentage of agricultural land in the Great Lakes region.”

Nutrient runoff, especially phosphorus, has caused frequent and intense harmful algal blooms in the lake in recent years, Irwin said.

“The Maumee River watershed, which is the largest tributary in Lake Erie and the largest drainage basin in the Great Lakes region, has been implicated as the largest source of nutrient runoff flows into the lake,” she said. “Its phosphorus flows have increased by 218 percent from 1995 to 2011.”

Ward, who focuses on farm management, will discuss the management of fertilizer and water quality improvement components.

His remarks will include the possible cost differences of implementing fertilizer licensing at the producer level; variable rate fertilizer applications; compulsory soil, tissue and manure sampling; the compulsory development and implementation of nutrient management plans; and variable versus single-pass applications of fertilizer, he said.

The discussion is just one of the topics and issues participants can expect to learn about during the three-day farm trade show that annually draws more than 130,000 farmers, growers, producers and agricultural enthusiasts from across the U.S. and Canada. 

Sponsored by CFAES, the Review features educational workshops, presentations, demonstrations and educational opportunities delivered by experts from OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, which are the outreach and research arms, respectively, of the college. 

Participants can peruse 4,000 product lines from 600 commercial exhibitors, and capitalize on educational opportunities from Ohio State and Purdue University specialists. 

Farm Science Review pre-show tickets are $7 at all OSU Extension county offices, many local agribusinesses, and also online at http://fsr.osu.edu/visitors/tickets. Tickets are $10 at the gate. Children 5 and younger are admitted free.

Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 17-18 and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 19.

CFAES News Team
Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Matthew Roberts

Brent Sohngen

Elena Irwin

Barry Ward