FORT JENNINGS — When meeting with Fort Jennings farmer Dick Ricker in regards to his induction into Ohio’s Agriculture Hall of Fame, State Representative Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon) whose 81st district includes Putnam County joined the conversation, as did State Senator Robert McColley (R-Napoleon) from District 1, which also includes Putnam County.

With both of his representatives present, the Sentinel took the opportunity to ask Ricker what he thought the state legislature should be working on for farmers.

“They need to keep that Governor under control,” came Ricker’s answer.

“I think he’s getting away from the legislative process with this Executive Order. That bothers me a little bit…That’s just taken one heck of a change in the way we do things here in Ohio. It’s almost like the Governor is taking over, and these guys (referring to the two representatives) almost don’t have a chance.”

“It was a huge policy initiative that should have been left up to the legislature,” agreed McColley. “What makes it even worse is that he never consulted with the legislature. He never consulted with the stakeholder groups, the farm bureau, the commodity groups, etc. He just did it.”

Hoops agreed, saying, “We also did a lot of things four years ago. Things are already being done. Somethings are in the process of being done. It’s going to take time, too.”

“It takes awhile,” added Ricker. “You can’t just flip a switch and change it overnight. There’s no way. Because this stuff, sure some of it’s coming from farms and other places, but it doesn’t get there in Toledo in fifteen minutes. It takes days and weeks and years before it gets there.”

“We want to base it on scientific method, and not on emotions,” Hoops said.

“Over the years, we’ve seen this coming,” continued Ricker, “We’re finding out that we spent a lot of money for fertilizer that we didn’t need. To the point now, when we need some, they come out with one of those big outfits that has the fertilizer on there. They shove a card in, take off and run through the field, and wherever the field needs it, it gets a little.”

“And, we do that with everything. Our lime applications are that way and everything. It was kind of amazing. It was shocking when we saw some of the different areas, and what the fertility already was…We’re not spending near as much on fertilizer that we used to.”

“And, we’re hearing that from a lot of farmers,” said Hoops.

“Oh yeah,” agreed McColley. “There are a lot farmers, as we all know, who are doing exactly what you’re doing across the area. With technology, they’re doing variable rate testing, the whole nine yards.”

“So I feel that [Gov. Kasich] just shoved a huge, huge compliance burden on a lot of small business owners,” continued McColley, “Who are now in a situation where they might have to comply. It’s not research based. It’s not science based. It wasn’t well thought out. It wasn’t developed with the stakeholders or the legislature. So that’s the contention that we all have with it.”

To better explore this idea that that the Executive Order was hastily written without consulting stakeholders or waiting on sound science, the Sentinel spoke with Dr. Chris Winslow, Director of Sea Grant at Stone Laboratory, part of The Ohio State University.

“I can’t speak to whether the Executive Order was the result of engagement with stakeholders,” said Winslow. “That’s something that resides within the state agencies, and of course within the Governor’s office. So I don’t know what conversations were had relative to stakeholders.”

“As far as science, there is a lot of data that we have in-hand. One example of that is we have, as a state, we have a tremendous water sampling network. A lot of that is led by Heidelberg University. We have a lot of sensors across the Maumee River watershed that identifies sub-portions of that watershed that have concentrations of nutrients that are higher than we would like to have in the watershed.”

“With the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, we have identified what total phosphorus and dissolved reactive phosphorus concentrations we need to have in our tributaries to get to a place where the [algal] blooms are more manageable. And, we have identified some areas within the Maumee river that have those higher concentrations. So, as far as the list of tributaries within the Executive Order, those are some of the higher concentration sub-watersheds.”

“So, as far as what the science says where are the more contributing rivers than others, I would say there’s a decent amount of science within that space.”

Echoing both McColley and Hoops, Winslow also spoke of the need to work with all stakeholders within the watershed, saying, “The Ohio Sea Grant, Ohio State University, and Stone Lab are never trying to vilify farmers. We all know it’s an issue. The farming community knows its an issue. I think we’re all working hard for solutions.”

“So, when we say that a lot of these nutrients are coming from Ag fields, and some is coming from urban and suburban areas, but a lot of it is from Ag - it’s not a finger pointing exercise for us. This is just from the science. We know where most of the sources are, and we need to work collaboratively to get [to where they need to be].”

“The more we keep the negative stuff out of here, and just talk about how we’re all in it together and need to work together, the better this will go. If you vilify farmers, we slow progress in the direction we need to be going.”