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Research Project: Agricultural Water Management in Poorly Drained Midwestern Agroecosystems

Location: Soil Drainage Research

Title: Commentary: Achieving phosphorus reduction targets for Lake Erie

item WILSON, ROBYN - The Ohio State University
item BEETSTRA, MARGARET - The Ohio State University
item REUTTER, JEFFREY - The Ohio State University
item HESSE, GAIL - National Wildlife Foundation
item FUSSELL, KRISTEN - The Ohio State University
item JOHNSON, LAURA - Heidelberg University, Ohio
item King, Kevin
item LABARGE, GREGORY - The Ohio State University
item MARTIN, JAY - The Ohio State University
item WINSLOW, CHRISTOPHER - The Ohio State University

Submitted to: Journal of Great Lakes Research
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/10/2018
Publication Date: 2/1/2019
Citation: Wilson, R., Beetstra, M., Reutter, J., Hesse, G., Fussell, K., Johnson, L., King, K.W., Labarge, G., Martin, J., Winslow, C. 2019. Commentary: Achieving phosphorus reduction targets for Lake Erie. Journal of Great Lakes Research. 45(1):4-11.

Interpretive Summary: Harmful and nuisance algal blooms caused by excess phosphorus continue to plague Lake Erie and other freshwater lakes and reservoirs. The persistence of the blooms in Lake Erie prompted a bi-national agreement between the US and Canada, calling for a 40% reduction in phosphorus loads to the lake. To achieve that goal, widespread adoption and implementation of conservation practices will be required. Several crop production practices as well farmer behavioral considerations were identified that if addressed, adopted and implemented would help to meet the 40% reduction goal. Stakeholders, policy makers, and action agencies can use this information to better inform policy and programs so that the likelihood of acceptance and adoption by the agricultural community is maximized.

Technical Abstract: Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), which were largely absent from Lake Erie from the 1980s until the mid-late 1990s, have been growing steadily worse in intensity. While much of the phosphorus loading into the lake prior to 1972 was caused by point-source pollution, approximately 88% to 93% of current loading comes from nonpoint sources, of which agriculture is the dominant land use. A reduction target of 860 metric tons, or 40% of the total phosphorus spring loading in 2008, has been set to motivate mitigation of agricultural nutrient losses across the watershed. We review the effectiveness of recommended practices aimed at reducing phosphorus loss in agriculture, and pair this knowledge with behavioral data on likely adoption to identify how best to achieve the reduction target. The data suggests that the target is feasible as a majority of the farming population is willing to consider many of the recommended practices. However, increases in adoption over time have been minimal, and farmers will need better cost-benefit information, site-specific decision support tools, and technical assistance in order to more rapidly adopt and execute the placement of recommended practices. A combination of voluntary and mandatory approaches may be needed, but policies and programs promoting voluntary adoption should be designed to better target known barriers and maximize voluntary program effectiveness.