WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, joined U.S. Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack in Dundee, Michigan today to announce $2 million in new federal resources to help protect Lake Erie. The funds will be used to help farmers in designated parts of Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana prevent phosphorus from entering Western Lake Erie Basin waterways. The announcement is part of an effort to improve water quality and support jobs in Ohio that are generated through the hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation industries tied to Lake Erie.
“A healthy Lake Erie is vital to Ohio’s prosperity—and achieving this goal requires a comprehensive, all-hands-on-deck strategy. These new resources will enable farmers to employ the best conservation practices possible and demonstrate how farmers can contribute to revitalizing Lake Erie and the recreation, tourism, and boating industries the lake supports,” Brown said. “I applaud Secretary Vilsack and the Natural Resource Conservation Service for recognizing the value of the Great Lakes, and that the benefits of agricultural conservation extend well beyond the farm.”
Brown and Vilsack were also joined by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and U.S. Rep. John Dingell (MI-15) to announce the new funding. Earlier in the day, Brown and Vilsack made stops in Cleveland and Milan, OH.
The announcement recognizes the critical role agriculture plays in conserving our natural resources, and will help support the millions of jobs that are generated through the hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation industry. Funds will address the excess amounts of phosphorus that cause blue-green algae to grow intensively in rivers and streams where it limits oxygen concentrations in water, makes water quality improvement more expensive, and impacts tourism in surrounding communities. Landowners that are included in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) are eligible to apply, and applications for funding are due at local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices by April 27. More information about EQIP is available here.
Selected projects will pilot innovative new practices that show promise as tools to address phosphorus runoff, such as biofilters and controlled drainage. To support this effort, USDA assembled a team of top scientists from USDA and Purdue University that developed recommended measures farmers can take to help limit phosphorus losses from agricultural operations: reducing runoff of phosphorus by placing fertilizer and manure below the soil surface; not applying phosphorus when levels in the soil are already high; planting buffers and filter strips along ditches and streams; and establishing diverse varieties of cover crops that reduce the volume of runoff, improve soil health and provide other conservation benefits.
Brown has been a longtime leader on efforts to protect Lake Erie. In October, amid growing concern over the spread of blue-green algae in the Western Lake Erie basin, Brown invited the Chief of the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to Ohio and emphasized the importance of focusing on conservation programs to improve nutrient management and reduce soil erosion. The Chief responded with a December visit to Lake Erie, bringing with him a team of the nation’s best soil scientists to learn about the characteristics of the watershed and to meet with Ohioans that are involved in ongoing conservation efforts in the region. Brown has also been working closely with Chairwoman Stabenow on the 2012 Farm Bill to ensure that the Great Lakes and the producers who farm in the watersheds around the lake receive support proportionate to the critical role they play in keeping soils healthy and water clean.
Additionally, as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Brown has fought to fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). The GLRI is an interagency effort to target the most significant problems in the region and jumpstart restoration efforts to protect, maintain, and restore the chemical, biological, and physical integrity of the Great Lakes. GLRI funding has helped support the removal of invasive species and plants in Ohio, funded the Toledo Harbor Sediment Management Plan, and provided resources for a comprehensive monitoring program to assess the nearshore Lake Erie water quality. Over the past three years, NRCS—in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—has invested $75 million above and beyond its base program funding in the Great Lakes basin, most of which has been directed toward addressing nutrient and sediment concerns. This funding is targeted both geographically—to priority watersheds that have an outsized impact on nutrient and sediment loading—and by core practices that are successful at reducing nutrient and sediment runoff. This work is producing results; a USDA report released last fall shows that farmers in the Great Lakes basin have made tremendous strides in reducing nutrient and sediment losses from their lands.
Earlier this year, Brown launched his “Grown in Ohio” listening session tour to get input from Ohio farmers as the Senate considers the 2012 Farm Bill. Brown has held sessions in Chesterland, Chillicothe, New Philadelphia, Custar, Cleveland, and Columbus on topics ranging from reforming the farm safety net and conservation to healthy food and biobased manufacturing.