Retailers and Crop Advisors Have a Prominent Role in EPA Action Plan for Lake Erie


March 19, 2018

It comes as no surprise that fertilizer dealers and agronomists are the trusted source for fertilizer recommendations on the farm, and results from a survey commissioned by The Fertilizer Institute back this up. For stakeholders seeking practice change on the farm, this means that agricultural retailers and crop advisors play an essential role. Entities seeking change must realize that not all actions will have government involvement; collaborations between the grower groups, the private sector, university and research institutions, and other agricultural stakeholders have the greatest opportunity for impact. 

EPA’s recently released Action Plan for Lake Erie identifies reducing non-point source (mainly agricultural) phosphorus loss during spring storm events as critical to preventing harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the lake. And, the plan indicates water and nutrient management are a key focus of the strategy particularly through the use of 4R practices (soil testing, variable rate application, subsurface phosphorus placement, and reducing application on frozen, snow covered, and saturated soils) and targeted conservation practices (cover crops, retention of plant residues, and edge of field practices). And, as a farmer’s trusted source for fertilizer information, the plan recognizes that agricultural retailers and crop service providers are in line to be the primary recommenders of practice change.

The fertilizer industry, in partnership with key stakeholders, has taken the lead to ensure retailers are informed and knowledgeable on concerns with the Lake and needed 4R practices. The Western Lake Erie Basin 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program, initiated in 2014, is based on education for crop advisors and their farmers and is backed up by audits of recommended and implemented practices on the farm. The program’s goal is for 80 percent of the farmed acres in the watershed to be under 4R certified management by 2020; they are currently at 38 percent.

Farmers and their crop advisors work closely to achieve optimized fertilizer management for desired production goals. Increasing the efficiency of fertilizer use through practices that reduce nutrient loss to the watershed is a win-win for farmers and the environment. Together, 2016 4R Advocate David Myerholtz of Gibsonburg, Ohio, and his retailer John Fritz of The Andersons, Inc., have successfully implemented new practices.

For Myerholtz, input costs were reduced using variable rate technology and collectively 4R practices help them generate improved efficiency, higher yields and better environmental stewardship. Additionally, he achieved 20 percent savings in fuel costs by converting from conventional tillage to strip-till for corn production, and efficiency of precision-applied nutrients reduced fertilizer use up to 10 percent by eliminating overlaps.

Survey results in the Western Lake Erie watershed indicate farmers are willing to make the needed practice changes if they can be shown the benefits and the costs. Their crop advisors are well positioned to be their agent of change. And as EPA’s Action Plan indicates, now is the time to focus resources on expanding adoption of the most effective phosphorus BMPs, to enhance communication and collaboration with agricultural partners, and to continue to support research to support on-farm decision making.