Recently, I participated in a dairy meeting held by the Ohio Dairy Producers and The Ohio State University Extension Service. Two topics were the main focus of the meeting. One was on water quality and agriculture's role in encouraging water quality with emphasis on the algae bloom in the western Lake Erie basin and implications for northeastern Ohio. The other was on programs to encourage us to drink more milk through dairy-farmer supported check-off funds.
Algae bloom in western Lake Erie and Lake St. Mary in western Ohio has become a problem of concern the last two or three years. Immediately some environmental groups pointed the finger at farming and too much use of phosphorus fertilizer. While agriculture has some responsibility for the problem, they are not the only ones.
Phosphorus in our water is in two forms, dissolved and undissolved. It is the dissolved kind that causes the algae bloom and can come from several sources.
Phosphorus is a plant food that is essential for good crop production that results in an adequate food supply for our dinner tables. So farmers do use it on crops like corn and soybeans. It is also found in livestock waste, municipal and septic sewage and run-off from paved parking lots, streets and other areas.
Agriculture has accepted its responsibility in reducing the amount of dissolved phosphorus they contribute to the problem. They have increased their use of soil testing to make sure they don't apply any more than is necessary for good crop production.
Nearly 5,000 farmers have attended educational programs to help them understand what they need to do to reduce phosphorus run-off. Wide use of the 4-R program across northern Ohio is helping. This program calls for the right fertilizer, applied at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place. A program is being considered to have those who apply large amounts of fertilizer to be certified.
But agriculture says "we are not the only ones causing the problem." Several farm groups have provided matching funds to support a study that further identifies the role of municipal sewage systems, poorly functioning home septic systems and run-off from the many paved parking lots, streets and driveways as well as the highly fertilized urban lawns and golf courses.
Disposal of livestock waste, manure is another concern. Regulations are considered that would greatly restrict winter time spreading of manure on frozen ground. This creates a serious problem for livestock farmers because winter is usually when they have time to spread manure on their fields. Spring, summer and fall are usually more than full with planting, cultivating and harvesting crops. So livestock farmers are watching this situation carefully and some are wondering if they can stay in business with more regulations.
Scott Higgins, who heads up both the Ohio Dairy Producers and American Dairy Association Mideast, talked about the loss of fluid milk sales. That is the milk we buy in half- gallons or gallons to drink at home or order to drink in a restaurant.
Dairy farmers contribute 15 cents from each 100 pounds of milk they ship for promotion of milk and milk products. Dairy processors contribute another 20 cents a hundred that goes to encourage us to drink more milk.
Programs being considered include new and different packaging, encouraging milk drinking when eating away from home, different advertising and promotion, longer shelf-life, low-sugar and fat flavored milks and more.
Last week I was in a meeting with Hannu Asunmas, marketing director for the ELECSTER OYL Company from Finland. He was talking with us about a new flexible, plastic packaging process for milk that is widely used in Europe, an innovative way of selling milk with several advantages - if consumers accept it. A feasibility study in this country is considered.
Dairy farming has its opportunities - and challenges.
Parker is an independent agricultural writer.