The Ohio Environmental Council, created as an outgrowth of the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s, aims at assisting Ohioans passionate about preserving the natural world, but lacking resources or funding to make a lasting impact. As part of its mission, the council frequently interfaces with local, state, and federal government regulators as well as with the agriculture industry to provide education and to advocate for funding opportunities that support agricultural conservation practices across the Buckeye State. This year, the council celebrates 50 years in operation.
Over the last 50 years, the council’s mission has changed as environmental challenges have evolved, said Pete Bucher, the council’s water resources director. For instance, since the 2014 Toledo water crisis, the OEC has doubled down on prioritizing reducing harmful algal blooms and recommitted to working with the agriculture industry to reduce phosphorus runoff in different parts of Ohio, he said. Elsewhere, the council is working with representatives from environmental, agriculture, academic, and regulatory communities to build a comprehensive statewide water quality initiative for certification of Ohio’s farms, “supporting healthy waterways through agriculture conservation,” he said.
In order to be most effective, these efforts must target small-to-midsize farms as well as larger farms growing Ohio’s commodity crops, such as soybeans and corn. According to the USDA’s 2018 State Agriculture overview, these two crops alone account for more than 60% of the state’s harvested acres. This equates to nearly $5 billion in production value, so ensuring their continued growth is critical to the health of the state’s agricultural economy. The Ohio Environmental Council works to keep these farms thriving while reducing their environmental impact.
The council advises farmers to use natural conservation tools, such as cover crops and buffered fields, whenever possible. “Keeping crops healthy means keeping water on the fields as much as possible,” Bucher said. Cover crops prevent water loss and soil erosion so that the main crops may flourish. Buffered fields provide barriers around fields to prevent runoff. Such fields may utilize anywhere from 15 to 100 feet of grass or native trees as boundaries. Maintaining adequate water levels in fields and preventing erosion helps ensure the crops that end up on our dinner plates or in our restaurants are as nutrient-dense as they can be, while protecting our waterways from runoff.
As the council looks to the next 50 years, a watershed moment for the sustainability movement both locally and globally, the council will continue to investigate the way “water quality is entangled with agriculture, and pursue further [government] funding while making sure there is accountability behind the funding, and that water quality actually improves,” Bucher said. The organization also will continue providing educational opportunities to local farmers, leading to more boots-on-the-ground conservation efforts. To that end, the OEC has developed the Emerging Leaders Program, connecting young people from diverse backgrounds to environmental issues at home and internationally.
To find out how you can support agricultural conservation efforts, visit TheOEC.org.