December 1994 // Volume 32 // Number 4 // Ideas at Work // 4IAW3

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Producer Involvement in Watershed Management

Improved watershed management by farmers is a goal sought throughout the country to improve water quality in our lakes and streams. The Upper Vermilion Watershed Project enabled producers to become involved in managing their watershed by developing and employing Manure Nutrient Management Plans and Best Management Practices. Producers surveyed indicated that their understanding of water quality issues increased as a result of this project and they used the Manure Nutrient Management Plans to make informed decisions about their fertility programs.

Barry W. Ward
Extension Agent
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Community Development
Ohio State University Extension-Richland County
Mansfield, Ohio
Internet address:

Mark I. Pittman
Associate Extension Agent
Water Quality
Ohio State University Extension
Ashland, Huron, and Richland Counties

Roger Amos
Extension Agent
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Ohio State University Extension
Ashland County

Gary Bauer
Extension Agent
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Ohio State University Extension
Huron County

Improved watershed management by farmers is a goal sought throughout the country. As water resources come under closer scrutiny by the public, watershed management has become an important tool in helping farmers improve water quality. Decreased nutrient, sediment, and pesticide levels are keys to improving water quality in our rivers and lakes.

Within Ohio, the Upper Vermilion Watershed ranked ninth out of 285 basins in agricultural phosphorous contributions to Lake Erie, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Phosphorous, a nutrient responsible for increased plant growth, has impaired water quality and aquatic life in Lake Erie in recent years. The establishment of the Upper Vermilion Watershed Project, funded by the United States EPA under provisions of Section 319 of the Clean Water Act, allowed for improved water quality through a decrease in nutrients applied to cropland. Mark Pittman, Associate Extension Agent, coordinated the overall water quality project and was supervised by a joint board of supervisors comprised of agency personnel and area farmers.

The project objectives were to:

  1. select farm operations in the watershed which would cooperate with the project by inventorying their nutrient needs and production;

  2. develop nutrient management plans for farm operations and review to ascertain the degree of implementation;

  3. maintain complete records and submit timely reports of data collected and effort spent on the program;

  4. utilize information gathered in the program to educate the public about nutrient management concerns and achievements; and

  5. coordinate activities among various county, state, and federal agencies with responsibility for water quality related activities.

Two major efforts were targeted to carry out the project goals and objectives through producer involvement. Three "core farms" were targeted and organized to work closely with all agency personnel to implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) and Manure Nutrient Management Plans (MNM Plans). Producers were individually contacted to become participants and assist in developing MNM plans by pulling soil and manure samples.

In the third year of the project, producer participants were surveyed about the changes they had made on their farms. Using a five point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree; 5 = strongly agree), producers indicated they agreed (4.0) that they used the MNM plans to make fertilizer application decisions. Producers also indicated they used the MNM plans to decide how much fertilizer and/or manure to apply (3.85). This project helped producers increase their awareness of water quality concerns and how to improve water quality through improved watershed management. They indicated that they understood, as a result of this project, why phosphorous is a concern for water quality (4.0) and also why sediment can be a concern for water quality (4.0).

BMPs implemented during this project, which included conservation tillage, use of cover crops, animal waste facilities, sod waterways and sediment retention, erosion and water control structures, saved approximately 10,534 tons of soil. This soil savings translated to less sediment and phosphorous in the Vermilion River and Lake Erie which, in turn, translated to improved water quality. MNM plans that were developed directed farmers to utilize manure as crop nutrients, and savings on the use of commercial fertilizers of 437,686 pounds of nitrogen, 203,934 pounds of phosphorous and 347,422 pounds of potash were possible with the 23 plans developed. These savings translated to additional water-quality benefits in the watershed and Lake Erie. The joint board of supervisors will ensure the continuance of this project by advising agency personnel in the watershed; MNM plans will be updated every three years; and BMPs will continue to be promoted as a part of this project in the future.

Author Notes

More information on this project is available through Barry Ward of The Ohio State University Extension, Richland County.