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How Ohio’s nutrient management standards are drafted

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Nutrient management is the key to sound agronomic practices and how those practices affect crop production and the environment.

Food and agriculture together is the top industry in Ohio, and it employs one out of seven people in the state. With 400 different types of soil, Ohio is equipped to grow a wide variety of crops. Ohio is only one of four states with more than 50% of its land classified as “prime farmland.” This ranks Ohio 11th in the nation for the number of farms. Corn and soybeans rank first and second, respectively, in crop production in the state. Ohio is also the eighth-ranked state in swine, fifth-ranked in the nation in dairy operations, 29th-ranked in cattle production, and it is the largest sheep-producing state east of the Mississippi River.

As you can see, Ohio is abundant with agriculture products and commodities. This indicates a large focus has been, and will continue to be, put on nutrient management. Thus, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service developed its conservation practice standard nutrient management (Code 590), most commonly referred to as the 590 Nutrient Management Standard.

Reviewing the national 590 practice standard

Every five years, the USDA NRCS reviews the national 590 practice standard, makes revisions and updates as necessary, and provides the document to each state for review and implementation. While many states accept the national standard as their state standard, Ohio is not one of them. As Ohioans, we want to make sure the national standard reflects the uniqueness of our state. The state NRCS office is charged with reviewing the document and incorporating it into an Ohio Nutrient Management Standard. For the review process, Ohio NRCS put together a 590 Review Committee made up of representatives from academia, commodity groups, livestock boards, state advocacy groups, Ohio Department of Agriculture, the ODA Division of Soil and Water Conservation, the Ohio EPA, retailers, etc. As a member of the Ohio certified crop adviser board, I was nominated to sit on the review panel to represent CCAs across the state of Ohio.

The review process was coordinated by Mark Smith, state resource conservationist, and Eric Schwab, state agronomist. The committee first convened at the London field office in December. At this first meeting, all members of the committee of 19 were given an opportunity to introduce themselves and provide any general comments and concerns regarding nutrient management. I was not the only one on the committee who was unsure how the review process worked and what our actual duties would be. Some time was given to review the structure of an NRCS standard. There are a number of categories that make up a standard, some of which cannot be changed from what the national standard spells out. Others, however, can be edited, added to or removed, as well as made more restrictive if necessary.

The committee reconvened at the London field office again in early January and would meet every two weeks thereafter.

Informed decisions

Each meeting had a presentation or two intended to help the committee members make informed decisions as we went through the national standard document. Some of the presentations included: an update on the working on the new Tri-State Fertilizer Guide; a demonstration on the On-Field Ohio! assessment tool; an informative session on the Nutrient Tracking Tool (NTT); a look into Ohio phosphorus-impaired watersheds; a review of the current P Index; a discussion on phosphorus and nutrient solubility; and a look into a pre-screening, low-P risk tool. The hope was to have a final meeting at the end of March to wrap up updating the standard to meet Ohio needs. However, COVID-19 exploded onto the scene, and the end-of-March meeting was canceled.

After several weeks at a standstill, we were able to resume discussions — although not in person, but through Zoom meetings that began in May and continued through June. As a committee, we were able to get through the standard and update where necessary. Finally, in July, the draft 590 document was released for public comment. The existing 590 standard is rather lengthy, and one of the goals of the committee was to shorten the document itself and have a lot of the supporting information reside outside the document for reference purposes. This way, the supporting information — for example, the phosphorus loss assessment tools (i.e., On-Field Ohio! or NTT) — can be updated and revised without having to reconvene the committee to revise and update the entire 590 standard.

It has been a great experience being on the 590 review committee, and I hope I did my part representing all the Ohio CCAs. Although the standard is in draft form and is planned to be finalized, the work is not done. Many of the committee members, including me, have committed to subcommittees that will work on the supporting information referenced throughout the standard document.

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