When the algal bloom exploded in Lake Erie last summer and forced a ban on all water uses in Toledo, Ohio, not far from Fort Wayne, it changed the rules of the game. Jim Lake, longtime conservation professional and now a private consultant for soil conservation projects, says it's now an urgent matter to get the word out about controlling nutrient runoff and nutrient movement into water.
"The heat is on from federal agencies and others after the incident last summer," Lake confirms. An Allen County farm boy, he now lives in Steuben County. "We've got to show progress on limiting phosphorus amounts that reach the Great Lakes."
One way to do that is placing phosphorus fertilizer beneath the soil instead of spreading it on top. It's not as fast as spreading with a spinner spreader, but in areas where government agencies are watching through a magnifying glass, it may be the best solution. Right now it's still voluntary. However, regulations could come, requiring it and other changes in how farmers apply fertilizer, especially in areas that drain into the Great Lakes. Part of northeast Indiana drains into rivers that feed into Lake Erie.
That's why the Great Lakes Commission, set up through an NRCS initiative, made a grant to he Allen County Soil and Water Conservation District to purchase a 30-foot rig that can place dry fertilizer below the surface and seed cover crops in one pass.
Greg Lake with the Allen County SWCD says that the rig they're making available for farmers to try the practice is flexible. This fall they had it set up to apply fertilizer below the soil on 15-inch centers, and cover corps on 7.5 inch spacing. However, there are many other ways to set up the machine. There are lots of possibilities, he says.
Their goal is to demonstrate that placing fertilizer below the surface and seeding cover crops at one time can be an efficient and environmentally friendly way to help minimize both soil loss and nutrient movement into water.