Empowering farmers to improve water quality with funding and technical support.

Learn more at one of three Farmer Lunch & Learns, Aug 27, Sep 17 or Oct 22.

Filter strips act as a natural buffer along water corridors such as this one. The strips trap soil and fertilizers before they can drain into the water. credit: USDA NRCS

HRWC is launching a new project aimed at reducing phosphorus runoff from agricultural lands. Whole Farms for Clean Water seeks to empower farmers to minimize soil erosion and nutrient losses from their fields. The project uses a data-driven model, flexible and cost-effective conservation techniques and incentive payments to farmers for reductions in phosphorus. More than that, it will invest in the success of participating farms by providing each with a tailored business plan. These Whole Farm Plans will recommend new markets and long-term approaches for profitability across the entire farm operation.

The project’s innovative approach uses a nutrient flux model that relies on HRWC chemistry and flow monitoring data and local economic information. The model can predict the expected phosphorus reduction from a specific conservation practice applied to any field the farmer chooses.

All eyes on algae

Water quality problems such as excess phosphorus and nitrogen, resulting in part from agricultural runoff, have remained stubbornly difficult to solve. These nutrients promote the overgrowth of algae. A cascade of effects can result—toxic excretions from algae, depletion of dissolved oxygen, fish kills—shutting down water supplies, closing beaches and hurting tourism. Lake Erie experienced record algal blooms in 2011 and 2015. Smaller blooms like the one that caused the 2014 Toledo water crisis are no less toxic. Here in the Huron River watershed algal blooms have plagued Ford and Belleville lakes, as well as other inland lakes, for many years.

Solving the problem

Under a non-binding agreement, Ohio, Michigan and Ontario in 2015 committed to a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus flowing to Lake Erie by 2025. It included a 20 percent reduction by 2020. Additionally, HRWC and partners have committed to eliminating the state-designated nutrient impairment for Ford and Belleville lakes. Tremendous progress has been made to reduce urban and stormwater runoff by 40%, but agricultural runoff has not improved. This project seeks to reduce 10.5 tons of phosphorus runoff per year.

Several government programs already exist to support farmers in making changes that reduce phosphorus runoff. Historically these programs provide standardized payments for a set of proscribed conservation practices regardless of the local field conditions or expected outcomes. This new project will provide incentive payments based on the amount of modeled nutrient reductions.

Whole Farm Plans for growing business

The project seeks to empower farmers to play an active and long-term role in meeting water quality goals by connecting those goals to the farm’s business goals. Farms participating in the project will be eligible for a Whole Farm Plan: a comprehensive forward-looking business plan for the land and farm operation, developed by a team of professional agronomists. Each plan is tailored to the individual farm and is dedicated to measurable outcomes. The plans detail the farm’s history and condition. They make recommendations for land use, resource management, tenancy and revenue streams. They also propose the best-suited conservation approaches and existing incentive programs available to help.

The project team will provide farms with technical support as they implement the practices that reduce phosphorus. It will also work to develop markets with local and regional agricultural buyers for new crops resulting from adopted conservation practices. For example, some specialty botanicals used in area restaurants can be grown within stream buffers or filter strips.

Join us for a Farmer Lunch & Learn!

Learn how you can get paid to reduce phosphorus runoff from your farm. Meet the project team, learn about the project and conservation techniques and how to enroll. All are from Noon to 1pm. Lunch provided.

  • August 27, Scio Township Hall, RSVP.
  • September 17, Chelsea District Library, RSVP.
  • October 22, Matthaei Botanical Gardens, RSVP.

The Environmental Protection Agency is providing financial support in the amount of $649,353 to the Huron River Watershed Council for the Whole Farms for Clean Water project. Principal project partners include Environmental Consulting and Technology, the Huron River Watershed Council, Ohio State University, Solutions in the Land and the University of Michigan.