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In 2010, the Ohio Farm Science Review played off the theme “I’m more than a farmer.”
The whole idea was that farmers wear a lot more hats than most would think.

Our newspaper ran a special story on the theme, as well. We discovered that farmers are also businessmen, conservationists, agronomists, animal handlers, educators and much more.

Sandusky Bay

Just a few days ago, I got a really good look at some of the “extra hats” the farmer wears on a trip to Fremont, Ohio. I went to Fremont (Sandusky County) on a rainy day, to talk to grain farmers about the work they’re doing to control sedimentation and nutrient loading into nearby watersheds that ultimately drain into Lake Erie.

As you may know, sediment and nutrient runoff, as well as dissolved phosphorous, are big issues. The end result is showing up in Lake Erie in the form of harmful algal blooms, which adversely affect the ecosystem in that area, and in other parts of Ohio where this is happening.

I’ll have a full story on progress that is being made in the next few days. But what a rewarding trip to see in person what’s going on up there!

What I saw

Unfortunately, I was only able to visit a couple farms, but both are doing remarkable things on a voluntary effort, to counter agriculture’s contribution to the problem. The first farmer, whose name I’ll omit until the story is published, uses filter strips along most of his fields that adjoin streams and drainage ditches.

A filter strip, at least in that area — are strips of land twenty feet or so wide, where the farmer leaves unplanted, except for some grass. These strips are used as the name implies — to filter out any runoff contaminants, before the water advances on to the ditches and streams.

He also uses variable rate fertilizer application, which applies only the amount of fertilizer necessary per area of field, based on soil tests that show what’s actually in the soil, and what needs to be added and where.

The farmer told me he could make more money planting all his acreage to crops and increase his yield, and I’m sure that he could. But, he said his bigger focus was on the environment, the perception by his community and being a good steward of the land.

The second farmer I talked to, along the Seneca and Sandusky County line, is trying a device he invented called a sediment collector. It’s kind of hard to describe, so I’ll post a picture.

Basically, it’s a poured concrete chute with a large collection box with a grate over top. The water in the stream passes overtop the grate and collection box undisturbed, but the sediment falls through the grate and into the box.

Clever idea

When it becomes full, the farmer can go in with a skidsteer and remove the sediment. What’s more is, he plans to apply the sediment to his fields, returning some of the same nutrients that have been lost, so they can be reused, or broken down further in the soil.

This project received no funding, other than community support and volunteerism. Like a lot of farmers in that region, the farmer who installed it knows full well that agriculture is only one culprit for the algal blooms and the increase in sedimentation issues. Other issues include municipal waste and bad septics, as well as some landscape products.

But both farmers told me they’re committed to doing their part, realizing that agriculture does have a role, and they’re taking it head on.

As both men told me, they think there’s a lot to be gained for their own operations, and the communities in that part of the state, by doing these kinds of things.

Conservationists for life

Both of them have been practicing conservation all their lives, and their parents did the same, on the same farms. The issues and the technologies have changed, undoubtedly, but their concern for the earth and their neighbors is very genuine and resilient.

“Conservationist” and “land steward” are just a couple hats our farmers wear, but I sure got a good look at those things, and I look forward to publishing the article in a few days.

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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