The drinking-water crisis in one of Ohio's largest cities is drawing attention to a new requirement for farmers in the state: a license to fertilize.
The certification is the biggest step Ohio has taken to control nutrient runoff from farms, seen as a key cause of algae blooms in Lake Erie. Those blooms are blamed for a two-day "do-not-drink" advisory in Toledo and its suburbs that ended Monday.
Regulators say the new licenses that become mandatory in 2017 will require farmers to take a one-day class. They say it will help cut fertilizer use by showing farmers how they can apply less nutrients without negatively affecting their crop yields. The law also allows regulators to revoke such certifications if problems are found on a farm.
State officials and farm leaders point to the certification as a sign of the growing steps Ohio is taking to tackle the blooms, with such efforts expected to increase in the years ahead. But environmentalists argue much more aggressive steps are needed to prevent repeat occurrences of what happened in Toledo.
"This isn't a matter of farmers fine-tuning what they're doing," said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Midwest advocacy group. "This requires a substantial rethinking of how nitrogen and phosphorus is used in the agriculture sector."