H2Ohio Plan Recognizes Agriculture’s Contributions to Sustainable Goals

November 21, 2019

A plan detailed last week by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine underscores the role agriculture will play in meeting the Solutions from the Land vision: By 2030, America’s farms, ranches and forests are at the forefront of resolving food system, energy, environmental and climate challenges and achieving global sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Among the SDGs laid out by world leaders in 2015 and supported by SfL is the ensured availability and sustainable management of water.

The “H2Ohio” initiative was introduced in March in an early draft of the Ohio state budget, and on Nov. 14, DeWine rolled out the plan’s specifics. H2Ohio is said by state officials to be an investment in targeted solutions to help reduce runoff through increased implementation of agricultural best practices.

In addition to decreasing phosphorous effluent, the plan looks to create wetlands. The $172 million earmarked for the plan by the Ohio General Assembly last July will also go to improving wastewater infrastructure.

The H2Ohio plan and the disclosure of its details comes on the heels of a landmark, comprehensive action plan released last spring that offers pragmatic, proven and innovative solutions to challenges confronting Ohio over the next several decades, including the need to abate agricultural runoff.

Developed by farmers – with participation from experts in agribusiness, health, nutrition policy, ecology and conservation – the action plan, “Ohio Smart Agriculture: Solutions from the Land (OSA: SfL), A Call to Action for Ohio’s Food System and Agricultural Economy,” was made available last spring for policy makers, planners and farm and food system advocates. The OSA:SfL action plan is the unique result of an exploration of ways to place farming at the forefront of resolving the extensive challenges facing Ohio today. Addressing nutrient pollution from agriculture was one of the action plan’s core recommendations.

The H2Ohio plan’s funding will help farmers reduce phosphorus runoff from commercial fertilizer and manure to prevent algal blooms that threaten lakes, rivers and streams, jeopardizing drinking water and impacting the health of people and animals. State officials say the algal blooms are especially prevalent in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

After state efforts to help farmers reduce nutrient loss over the years proved insufficient, intensive scientific and economic studies were conducted, leading officials to identify what they say are the 10 most effective and cost-efficient practices proven to reduce agricultural runoff. To help ensure a strong chance of success for the program, H2Ohio officials will use a certification process and provide economic incentives to farmers who develop a nutrient management plan including a combination of these best practices.

Identified practices include soil testing, variable-rate fertilization, subsurface nutrient application, manure incorporation, conservation crop rotation, cover cropping, drainage water management, edge-of-field buffers, and use of wetlands.

State officials say they have no desire to mandate the use of the best practices. They understand that these actions do not come without cost. DeWine and others believe the strategy of delivering financial incentives will lead to significant changes within current laws. Not only would funding assistance enable producers to adopt better management practices that will ultimately cut the growing costs posed by excessive runoff, the actions would ultimately save farmers money, generating ever-increasing income for those who work the land and the rural communities they support.

Gov. DeWine, state legislators, Ohio agriculture interests and environmentalists are all to be commended for recognizing the solutions that agriculture can offer in meeting environmental challenges. The state’s foresight in offering farmers a monetary stake in the effort during a time of well-documented financial stress in rural America offers a path that should be followed by other states throughout the nation.

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