Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I think I have convinced my children that I am pretty smart. They are at the ages where they ask copious amounts of questions. And, every time they ask me a question, I have an answer for them.

“Daddy, why is this soccer ball round?”

“So it rolls after you kick it.”

“Daddy, why do we have a fireplace?”

“So we can stay warm in the winter.”

“Daddy, where do baby puppies come from?”

“Ask your mother.”

And, while it is important for all-knowing parents such as myself to have all of the answers, it is a matter of political survival for politicians. The reality is, though, that nobody has all of the answers. In the case of what to do about the oft-discussed algal blooms in Lake Erie, there are no clear answers. But, an “I don’t know” from a politician in response to an angry constituent who got a gooey glob of blue-green algae stuck in his jet ski is not acceptable.

So, the politician offers, “That is terrible, I’ll look into it.” Soon the disgruntled jet skier becomes Lake Erie’s 5 million water drinkers and $10 billion recreation industry and there is a political cry for funding to solve the problem.

This funding goes to experts in the field, consultants, advisers and so forth, who know that the real answer is, “I don’t know.” But, it is amazing how quickly a couple of million bucks can change those, “I don’t knows” into, “We need to conduct more research into the situation in an effort to solve the problem.”

The current result is millions of dollars being poured into land use, agricultural management education, and research of a problem that may not even be solvable.

“We see signs of the problem, but the science hasn’t figured it out yet. There is no denying the pea soup in Grand Lake St. Marys, but at the same time we’re seeing close to the same thing in southeast Ohio where there are no livestock operations or nutrient applications,” said Mark Wilson, with Land Stewards, LLC in Marion. “We have science that says that dissolved reactive phosphorus will result in an algal blooms, but we don’t know the triggers. We’re going to see laws and regulations put into place and I’m a little uncomfortable with the approach that the government, USDA and Extension have taken because, while there is an educational need here, there is also some self-interest on the parts of these organizations to receive and distribute funding. The government wants to throw money at this to show they are being responsive, but nobody really understands the science of it. It makes the constituents in those areas feel like they are getting some attention from government, but in the bigger picture, it really isn’t going to make a whole lot of improvement overall.”

Even if all of the research, funding, and land use changes are a complete success and totally stop dissolved phosphorus from entering our streams and lakes (an impossibility), there is ample phosphorus already in lakes and streams to support harmful algal blooms for many, many years to come.

“There is enough phosphorus in the system that agriculture is set up to fail,” Wilson said. “This is about managing expectations. Right now there are a lot of expectations that

agriculture will fix this problem and I don’t think they’ll be able to do it. People will say, ‘Look, ag hasn’t been able to get this done and we need to force them to get it done.’ But we’re not going to appreciably change the levels of dissolved reactive phosphorus because it is such a minute quantity.”

The massive government funding efforts for a “quick fix” of this extremely complex situation seem misguided on this issue when the chances of solving the problem in this manner seem so small. With all of this being said, though, these efforts are still worthwhile. Regulations or not, there is still much that can be done within agriculture to improve nutrient management, both for the benefit of disgruntled jet skiers and for farm production efficiency and profitability.

“There are good things that go along with putting these management practices into place, but I really don’t see significant changes taking place in the ecosystem and how these things are balanced with regard to dissolved reactive phosphorus,” Wilson said. “No matter what we do, we will have a nutrient enriched landscape that will continue to deliver nutrient enriched runoff.”

This situation will leave the algae situation unsolved. And, until there is an answer on this issue, I just hope my kids don’t ask me about how we can control harmful algal blooms.

“Daddy, what causes harmful algal blooms?”

“Uhh. Politicians. Ummm, phosphorus. Uhh…jet-skiers…Ask your mother.”

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

To celebrate Ohio Ag Week (the second full week of March) at the Reese house, we made an all-Ohio meal. We used fresh eggs gathered from our own hens that day, bacon and ham from a hog we got from our neighbor, Snowville Creamery Milk from Pomeroy, Ohio and some cheese. The cheese came from the local grocery, but we’re not sure about the exact origin of the cheese, so we fudged a bit there.

Our four-year-old daughter made the meal from the cracking of the eggs (she has been doing this since she was two) to adding the cheese, with some supervision from her mother. The scrambled eggs were delicious and the meal was (almost) all from Ohio. It was a great meal, a fun family project, and a fun way to help the kids learn about where their food comes from during Ohio Ag Week.

During the second full week of March the new Ohio Department of Agriculture director David Daniels also took the opportunity to remind Ohioans about the importance of the state’s top industry.

“Today, agriculture tells a much different story than it did when I was growing up,” Daniels said. “Ohio farmers are on the cutting edge of technology. They are doing things faster and more efficiently, using precision equipment and GPS-guided tractors, and the effects are resonating far beyond Ohio’s borders and into a global marketplace.”

Daniels toured two new facilities that highlight Ohio agriculture not only in terms of benefitting those within the state, but also people around the world. He went to Bluegrass Farms and Central Ohio Logistics Center near Jeffersonville, where food grade Ohio soybeans are cleaned bagged, and shipped around the world. He also visited Feed the World, LLC, in Sabina that exports high quality livestock to foreign countries.

“Ohio farmers and agribusinesses are now sorting and sending thousands of bushels of identity-preserved, food-grade soybeans to Japan and Korea. Through this high-tech process, a customer in Asia can trace back the beans in each bag to the plot of land right here in Ohio they were grown on. The process creates jobs, and the Ohio farmers growing these soybeans are often paid a premium above the standard price of the commodity,” Daniels said. “Ohio’s quality livestock are also in high demand and are being shipped all over the world. In 2010, Ohio exported 7,034 livestock animals compared to the 25,836 livestock animals Ohio exported in 2011. The volume of livestock going through the state is projected to exceed $3.1 million in economic activity, just in feed costs.”

These businesses are a great benefit to the local agricultural economy and to Ohioans in general.

“When Ohio farmers and agribusinesses are successful, we all benefit. There are more jobs and income, and money from these transactions filters through the community and helps support the bank, the grocery store, the local car dealer, or any other number of community businesses,” Daniels said. “The food you buy to feed your family costs less. Simply put, every time another country invests in Ohio agricultural products, it means a better way of life and a secure future for you and your family.”

Agriculture has been the lone bright spot in the darkest of economic times for Ohio.

“Now, more than ever, we need to look toward agriculture. Even when other industries are challenged by changing trends, agriculture continues to be our top industry, adding $107 billion to the economy and providing thousands of jobs to people who live in our state,” Daniels said. “Did you know Mercer County is number one in the state in agricultural production? It is also number one in the lowest level of unemployment in the state. That is no coincidence.”

Agriculture means much more than a great meal of scrambled eggs, and the rest of the plentiful food on the table, for Ohio. Agriculture has always been the engine driving the state’s economy and will continue to fill this role moving forward. For this reason, for every Ohioan, every week should be Ohio Ag Week.