Friday, March 28, 2014

Soil microbes could hold key to weed control

 “Plant scientists have been studying plant-soil feedback for decades,” said Tony Yannarell, University of Illinois microbial ecologist. “Some microbes are famous for their ability to change the soil, such as the microbes that are associated with legumes —we knew about those bacteria. But now we have the ability to use high-power DNA fingerprinting tools to look at all of the microbes in the soil, beyond just the ones we’ve known about. We were able to look at an entire microbial community and identify those microbes that both preferred ragweed and affected its growth.”

Read rest of article  HERE

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Congratulations, John!

GSWCD Board Chairman Bill Betram (left) congratulates
John Enos for his 40 years of service on
 the Guernsey Soil & Water Conservation District board of supervisors.
Recently, John Enos was honored during the Ohio Federation of SWCDs during their annual meeting in Columbus.  Only 2 supervisors in the entire state of Ohio received this service award.  John has served the district for 40 years, having been first elected to the Guernsey Soil & Water Conservation District board by county residents in 1973.  For the past several years, he has served as the fiscal agent, overseeing the finances of the district.  
When John was elected in ‘73, the other 4 board members were: Burdette Elliott, Dean Thomas, Rollin Combs, and David Bay.  The Soil Conservation Service conservationist was Mark Giles, and County Extension agent was Wendell Litt.  Kenneth Elliott was the district aide, and Louise Daugherty was the office secretary.  Richard Nixon was president of the US, and John Gilligan was governor.  And Rowan and Martin aired the last season of Laugh-in. 

 During his first year on the board, the official process to create a county-wide soil inventory, called the Soil Survey, was initiated.  That first year, John was also appointed to represent the district on the OSU extension advisory council.  The district had just purchased a Brillion seeder, and rented it to county landowners who wished to improve their hayfields.  A demonstration of its use was organized by the Madison FFA chapter on a farm that the chapter rented.

The district’s annual meeting and election was held at the Madison High School.  At the meeting, the Rev Howard Bay gave the invocation, Deidre Reed and Jack Heston reported on their experience at 4-H Conservation Camp, and Linda Gray reported on her attendance of Forestry Camp.  The district had paid to sponsor these three young people’s registrations to these educational camps.  Landowner Henry McLaughlin received the district’s conservation co-operator of the year award, and was awarded a sign for his farm. 

Although many things have changed over the years, some things have stayed the same.  The district is still overseen by a five person board of local volunteers, who are elected for 3 year terms by residents of Guernsey county during the annual meeting.   The current board consists of Mr. Enos, Bill Bertram, Ken Ford, Myron Dellinger, and Steve Douglass. The district now has 3 fulltime employees; an administrator;  the “aide”, now called a technician, who provides technical advice; and a wildlife/forestry specialist.   The district still has a formal working agreement with the SCS, now called USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service,  and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.  It works closely with OSU Extension on education programs of all sorts.   Along with a newer model of a brillion seeder, there is also a no till drill available for landowners to rent.  And Soil Survey books for Guernsey county are available for the asking today at the GSWCD office. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The case against HB490

There is a bill moving through the Ohio State House that seeks to transfer the enforcement authority for livestock manure from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.  Currently, the ODNR has an agreement with all 88 SWCD offices for our staff to do the initial investigations, determinations, and to work with landowners to correct management problems that have been allowing livestock waste to contaminate surface and/or groundwater.   In this way, the district stands in the gap between landowners and an enforcement agency, working to solve a problem without penalties being imposed.  This is a win/win arrangement; landowners work with local people who know and understand them and the issues causing the problems, and the community at large benefits from improved water quality without tax increases due to the high cost of enforcement and oversight by two different state agencies.

This would effect the district - but more than that, it would effect our friends and neighbors.  Right now, our technician is investigating a complaint of a muddy mess caused by cattle enclosed in a feedlot on a built up road in Guernsey county.  This is a prime example of why the district staff can do SO MUCH better job of this.  Our staff is trained to look for solutions and give advice on correcting this problem.  Its likely that we can help these folks work through the issue, resulting in better animal health, better water quality in the stream on the property, better bottom line for the farm,  and better relations in the neighborhood where this eyesore has been festering.   All without fines, penalties, permits, and at about half the cost per hour for the district staff involved vs a state employee traveling from Columbus.  And in the process, we may gain another co-operator (and his neighbors) who has a positive opinion of the district.  

•         First and foremost – we are unsure what the problem was with the current system in place.  To our knowledge, the agriculture and environmental communities were not complaining of how Ohio’s 88 SWCDs were handling the program or the ODNR.

•         If the lack of effective enforcement is an issue, it lies within the ODNR and could easily be fixed without transferring the ENTIRE program to an organization that does not have the funding capabilities to handle it.

•         If changes were needed to improve the program – it makes more sense to make those necessary changes to the current structure than to create more bureaucracy, confusion and inefficiencies by transferring the program to the ODA.  Instead allow the ODNR to enter into a MOU with ODA that would give ODA the ability to handle the individual who fail to comply….

•         How will these changes INCREASE efficiency or REDUCE expenses to providing governmental services because in essence, it adds another layer of government, the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

•          The transfer of enforcement authority for “livestock manure only” is a disconnection of current enforcement and divides it between two agencies.  Livestock manure enforcement will be treated as a “nutrient” rather that a water quality issue.  The remaining agricultural, urban and silvicultural sediment water quality enforcement is to remain with ODNR.  Splitting the different programs amongst agencies will result in more cost and potentially much confusion. 

•         There is no funding attached to this transfer. However, the bill adds new responsibilities that ODA will now have to carry out and how could this impact SWCD state match down the road or impact the services provided by the ODNR Division of Soil and Water Resources’ that provides support for the SWCDs.  Furthermore, should SWCDs not enter into the MOUs with ODA, this would leave ODA to handle all complaints. 

•         The proposal envisions a future transfer of the ODNR Resource Management Specialists to ODA (the current plan is to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between ODNR and ODA to allow the RMS’s to serve ODA).  The current ODNR pollution abatement program is primarily administered by four Division of Soil and Water Resources staff known as “Resource Management Specialists” with assistance from the rest of the division staff. Only a small portion of their responsibilities is with the livestock manure program segment.  Other major roles are silvicultural and agricultural erosion and sediment, urban sediment and stormwater, conservation works of improvement and drainage.  Timely agronomic and engineering training is provided by RSM staff to SWCD staffs on location, when needed.  Coordination of pollution abatement initiatives with community and county leaders is also an important role they carry out.  Although the proposal envisions the transfer as enabling the same working relationship between RMS staff and SWCD’s to continue through ODA, this could be extremely difficult due to potential conflicts in priorities.  The RMS staff is currently fully obligated with other responsibilities cited earlier and their transfer would result in confusion and inefficiency.

•         The ODNR, ODA and EPA Directors recently spoke during the 4R Certification Launch for the Nutrient Service Providers and focused their comments on water quality being of highest priority and spoke of the importance of having voluntary efforts and programs in place to make vital improvements to the water quality efforts.  SWCDs have worked hard to provide voluntary conservation assistance and to build and maintain trust with local landowners to facilitate natural resource conservation. The language in the proposed legislation appears to place SWCDs in a greater regulatory role. This will place SWCDs in the awkward role of trying to provide voluntary assistance while also enforcing regulations, resulting in greatly decreased trust by landowners place SWCDs in the awkward role of trying to provide voluntary assistance.

•         This bill could impact our efforts of getting conservation on the ground.  In fact, we feel as though this transfer could negatively impact water quality efforts underway due to the lack of efficiency, chaos it could bring, and the potential regulatory role this could Water Quality Reduction.  It also has the potential to cause issues down the road with USDA.   Example:  There is concern that this legislation will have an impact on water quality trading in the Muskingum River Watershed and elsewhere in Ohio (Miami Watershed and the Ohio River Basin Efforts too highlighted recently by the ODNR, OEPA and the American Farmland Trust). SWCDs within the Muskingum River Watershed have formed a joint board to facilitate water quality trading. Water quality trading cannot occur without cooperating landowners installing conservation practices that generate tradable credits. Conservation practices installed because of enforced regulations are not eligible to generate tradable credits.  So this transfer could have a HUGE impact on those efforts.

•         Will this be seen as the first step in the gradual erosion of authority and responsibility for Ohio’s Soil and Water Conservation Program from ODNR to ODA?  Ohio’s current Soil and Water Conservation program is recognized nationally as a leader in program scope and funding.  Its interaction with ODNR divisions responsible for land, water, mineral, and forestry and wildlife resources enables effective and efficient natural resources program delivery at the local level.

•         A Bit of History:  The option of consolidating Ohio’s Soil and Water Conservation program with ODA versus ODNR was considered in 1969-70.  Agricultural, natural resources, environmental, community and educational agencies and organizations saw the advantage of interaction with other ODNR resource management divisions at that time and saw ODA as a permit/regulatory agency for agriculture only.  The resulting ODNR program for Soil and Water Conservation has flourished over the years and served Ohio well.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

NEW PHILADELPHIA, OHIO –  At the April 2nd,  8 PM meeting of the East Central Ohio Forestry Association (ECOFA), Kathy Smith, OSU Extension Forestry Program Director, will present a program geared for new forestland owners who feel overwhelmed about what to do with their woods.  The program titled "Seeing the Forest for the Trees" will discuss setting goals and using techniques to meet those goals.
 ECOFA is an organization of persons interested in improving their woodlands and in forestry-related topics.   The public is cordially invited to attend the free meetings which are held monthly at McDonald-Marlite Lewis Conference Center, 143 McDonald Drive NW in New Philadelphia.

Kathy can be reached at
379B Kottman Hall, 2021 Coffey Rd., Columbus, OH 43210
Phone:   614.688.3136

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

2014 Farm Bill streamlines, consolidates conservation programs

The 2014 Farm Bill is streamlining key conservation programs while investing about $18.7 billion in conservation programs offered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service over the next five years. The bill provides about $3.4 billion for fiscal 2014 for NRCS-administered programs.
The bill streamlines some conservation programs and consolidates and expands conservation authorizes of NRCS, one of the district’s partners.
“The new Farm Bill is great for America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners as it continues, consolidates and expands the conservation opportunities that are available,” USDA-NRCS District Conservationist Kim Ray said.
A comparison of programs included in the 2008 and 2014 bills is available here. Current contracts enrolled in Farm Bill programs are not affected.
Key program changes include:
  • Financial assistance programs: The Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, will absorb the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program and make similar practices available. The Conservation Stewardship Program and Agricultural Management Assistance will be continued.
  • Easement programs: The agency’s key easement programs will be merged into a new program called the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, or ACEP. ACEP includes the former Wetlands Reserve Program, Grasslands Reserve Program and Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program. Funding for wetland and grassland protection expired Sept. 30, 2013, and the 2014 Farm Bill reinstates funding for these critical efforts under ACEP.
  • Partnership programs: The agency’s regional conservation efforts have a home in a new program – the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, or RCPP. Critical conservation areas for this new program will be designated by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. NRCS will also select project areas at the state and national level.

To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit or local USDA service center. For more on the 2014 Farm Bill, visit

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What is Sustainable Agriculture, Anyway?

Submitted by Jim Mizik.  Jim has been the district technician for the Noble Soil and Water Conservation District since 1999. He also raises beef cattle with his son, Jeremy, on his family farm.

Writing Dirt on Conservation articles is a rewarding task that all the soil and water staff members who write take seriously. We all want the readers to know what we do, how we do it and who we do it with.

My problem is coming up with a topic that hasn’t already been covered and is interesting enough to get folks to read the whole thing. And I never know where that idea will come from.

So, in getting ready for this year’s Envirothon competition, as I looked over the guidelines for this year’s theme, I realized I didn’t know very much about sustainable agriculture.

If I were to ask 10 farmers to define sustainable agriculture, I would get 10 or 11 different answers, and none of them would be wrong. Just as every farm operation is different and unique in its own way, every answer would reflect that and be just a little different than everyone else’s answer.

Three pillars
What I didn’t know was that sustainable agriculture was so well defined. It seems the whole idea centers around the three pillars of sustainable agriculture — economic profitability, environmental health and social equity.

I had no idea. I thought it was more about hard work, good stewardship and working with family and friends — but what did I know? Well, it turns out we’re saying the same things, only in different ways.

Every farmer has a goal of being profitable — why else would we do what we do, right? But profits come in many forms, and I can’t think of any group that has the variety of benefits that farmers do — from the exhilaration of a new calf on a frosty morning to the exhaustion of a long day in the fields as the sun goes down. These are all things that most folks don’t get a chance to share.

Environmental health is something soil and water districts have been working on for 70-plus years. There have been a few hiccups in recent years, but the overall water quality in Ohio’s streams is lots healthier than 40 or 50 years ago.

Soil health is not just talked about anymore; we have folks in Ohio who are leading the way with new ideas about the benefits of cover crops. As for the social equity, raising and selling produce, meat, eggs or whatever at the local level helps you to make those important social connections needed to ensure a steady market for the future.

And with the social media that is so prevalent today, there are more marketing opportunities than ever before.

I don’t mean to rant, it was just that when I researched, I found this concept, which is for the most part recycled.  Growing a variety of food to feed the family, being diversified in the animals you raise and the crops you grow, and taking care of the land are all things our grandparents did.

Now, I am the age of the average farmer in the U.S. and I have grandkids of my own, and I sure hope they feel the connectedness I feel as they get older and realize all food doesn’t come from a grocery store.

As the need for transparency grows into every industry, we all need to understand that whether you consider yourself to be sustainable or not, if you sell food your customers want to know how it was raised. It’s their right to know, but we sometimes don’t do a good job of telling our story.

So, whether you are sustainable or not, I’d like for you to think about something for a minute. There are about 75,000 farms in Ohio, according to the latest ag census. If one person from each farm were to get together, we wouldn’t come close to filling Ohio Stadium.

By the year 2050, there will be 9 billion people living on this planet, and the amount of food needed is already a concern. We have to produce as much food in the next 36 years as has been produced in the last 500 years combined.

There will be lots of opportunities for everybody who wants to grow food in any way they see fit. Just remember, somebody’s always watching.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Just for Fun

Your Pond (and Fish) Emerging from a Potent Winter

So here we are, two-thirds through one of the most wintery winters I can remember having come to our state. I usually describe winter fish kills as uncommon to Ohio. However, if there is a winter that’s likely to produce an unusually large occurence of winter kill, it’s this one: prolonged cold and an abnormally large amount of accumulating snowfall.

Read rest of OSU extension article  HERE

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ohio Participating in First Interstate Water Quality Trading Program

The first stewardship credits in a new interstate water quality trading program with Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana were purchased today, launching a pilot project that will improve water quality in the Ohio River basin.

In 2012, Ohio partnered with Kentucky, Indiana, industry and agriculture to create the program, the first of its kind in the United States. The Ohio River Basin Water Quality Trading Project, which was developed by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), allows wastewater dischargers to purchase nutrient reduction credits from agriculture producers to achieve water quality improvements. The duration of the credits gives industry time to implement technology and practices to reduce nutrient discharges at an affordable cost to consumers.

Because many watersheds cross state boundaries, EPRI facilitated creating a collaborative water quality trading project among the three states. The Ohio River is an important source of drinking water, commerce and recreation for each of the participating states.

“Water quality trading is important as permit limits tighten and compliance targets continue to become more expensive,” Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said. “It’s imperative we search for more flexible and cost effective tools to help us achieve our environmental goals and save scarce public resources.”

“This program will build on Ohio’s aggressive efforts to improve water quality across our state,” said Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director James Zehringer. “We have successfully implemented conservation best management practices through the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative and look forward to achieving similar success with this program.”

At a public meeting today in Cincinnati, Duke Energy, Hoosier Energy and American Electric Power became the first buyers in the program, together purchasing 9,000 credits. More information about the Ohio River Basin Water Quality Trading Project is available online.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ohioans Urged to be Safe When Burning during Spring Wildfire Season

For Immediate Release
March 13, 2014

Don't burn during the day in March, April and May

COLUMBUS, OH – Ohioans are reminded to be aware of the state’s outdoor burning regulations and take necessary precautions if they are planning to burn debris this spring, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

Ohio law states outdoor debris burning is prohibited from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. during March, April and May. Burning is limited in the spring due to the abundance of dry fuel on the ground before small, grassy fuels green up with moisture. Winds can make a seemingly safe fire burn more intensely and escape control.

“After the long winter, many residents will be spring cleaning and burning their unwanted home and yard debris,” said Robert Boyles, chief of the ODNR Division of Forestry. “It’s critical that people take the appropriate precautions to contain these fires in order to protect their lives and property as well as the lives and property of their neighbors.”

If a fire escapes control, people should immediately contact the local fire department. An escaped wildfire, even one burning in grass or weeds, is dangerous. Violators of Ohio’s burning regulations are subject to citations and fines. Residents should also check the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations and consult with local fire officials about burning conditions.

The ODNR Division of Forestry offers these safety tips for burning debris outdoors:

  • Consider using a 55-gallon drum with a weighted screen lid to provide an enclosed incinerator. 
  • Know current and future weather conditions, have tools on hand and never leave a debris burn unattended.
  • Be informed about state and local burning regulations.
  • Consult the local fire department for additional information and safety considerations.
  • Visit and for more information and tips on protecting a home and community.
  • Remember: “Don’t burn during the day in March, April and May.”
  • The ODNR Division of Forestry works to promote the wise use and sustainable management of Ohio’s public and private woodlands. 
To learn more about Ohio’s woodlands, visit

Friday, March 7, 2014

District participates in the Home Show this weekend

This is the second year the district employees have participated in the cake auction at the Home Show. The auction benefits the local YMCA. Last year we made a cake depicting a farm field with buffers along a stream and grassed waterways to keep silt and fertilizers out of the water supply. This year, we made a butterfly cake, and provided a cedar butterfly shelter as an incentive. our theme is "Promoting Pollinators".
Please stop by the Pritchard Laughlin Center today and this weekend to see the home show. We also have a booth in the vendor area explaining the district's services to the community.
We'd appreciate if you'd place a bid on our cake or one of the others in the auction to add your support to the YMCA's mission.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Blueberries available in the spring tree sale

Blue Ray is perhaps the best midseason ripening cultivar for u-pick growers.  Plant is upright in habit, with height of 4-6 feet at maturity.   Fruits are large, some of them an inch in diameter, with approximately 60 berries per cup. Berries are firm, with a small picking scar, and light blue in color.  Flavors of sweetness with a desirable hint of acidity make it a fine flavored fruit. Yields are consistently high, with 10-20 pounds produced per plant.   The ornamental value for the bush is excellent, having dark green color in the summer and burgundy red in the fall.

Aurora will be 4-5 feet tall at maturity and spreading more than upright. It ripens late in the season, and yields 10-20 pounds of fruit per bush on mature plants.  Fruit size is medium; approximately 75 berries per cup. Berry quality is firm with a small dry picking scar.  Of the first berries to harvest, 50% are light powder blue.  As the later fruits ripen the fruits will change more to a dark blue.  The flavor of the early ripening fruits are more acid with little sweetness, as the season progresses fruits have more sweetness with little acid. The fruits are of high quality and are known to store for long periods.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2 Apple tree varieties available in the SWCD spring tree sale

Best known for its remarkable keeping qualities, GoldRush will keep in regular cold storage approximately ten or eleven months.  The fruit, which ripens in late fall, is crisp and tart off the tree and develops it’s sugars in storage.  GoldRush resists oxidation when cut making a nice, yellow sauce and the fruit also bakes very well. The tree is slightly upright with a semi-spur habit, and is top rated for resistance to scab and mildew.   

Nova Spy was introduced by the Nova Scotia Research Station in Kentville. Its fruit has a sweet, pleasant flavor making it very good for fresh eating. It bakes well and makes a great cider apple too. This variety has shown good resistance to apple scab.

These trees will arrive bare root, ready to plan immediately.  They are 1/2 to 5/8 inch diameter trees, and will likely stand 4 ft+ tall when planted.  You will receive one of each variety with each packet ordered.  

Tips for fruit tree care in March:

Late winter is the best time to prune peach, nectarine and apricot trees because fall and early winter pruning may expose trees to winter injury and canker infections. The delay permits the grower to adjust the severity of pruning to the percentage of fruit buds that survived the winter. Strive to develop a bowl-shaped or open-center tree.

Plant fruit trees as soon as the ground can be worked and as soon as possible after arrival from the nursery. (Protect roots from drying out or freezing.) In backyard plantings, the sod beneath trees should be turned under and cultivated to prevent competition for moisture and nutrients. Thoroughly water trees. (Wait to fertilize until the ground has settled around the roots)

Dormant Spray prior to fruit bud swell.  Be sure to read labels carefully before applying plant pest control materials.  Apply fertilizers just before bloom to maximize plant uptake and minimize leaching.