Researchers with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University are looking for farmers in the Maumee River Basin to volunteer for a study to determine the best management practices to reduce nutrient runoff while increasing crop yields.

Greg LaBarge, an Ohio State University Extension field specialist and a leader of Ohio State’s Agronomic Crops Team, is leading the Farmer Phosphorus Water Quality Monitoring Project. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.

The data will be used to quantify economic and environmental nutrient losses associated with phosphorus runoff, LaBarge said. The goal is to determine the best tools to target high-risk fields and design the most effective practices to maintain crop productivity while reducing loss of phosphorus, LaBarge said.

Experts say soluble phosphorus runoff from farms is an important cause of harmful algal blooms plaguing Lake Erie and other lakes in recent years. In August 2014, a toxic bloom in western Lake Erie led to a two-day drinking water ban in Toledo.

The project involves collecting water samples from 150-200 crop fields in the Maumee River Basin for two years during two separate periods – September to December and again from March to June, he said.

The goal of the project is to determine how much phosphorus is leaving the field and entering waterways. The samples will be measured against the specific management practice used on the field with an end goal of determining which best management practice works best on a specific field to reduce phosphorus runoff, LaBarge said.

“This project gives a farmer the chance to find out how much dissolved reactive phosphorus in pounds per acre is leaving their field site, based on their crop production system,” he said. “Each farmer will be provided their individual data plus summary data for all sites in the project.

“However, specific farm data will only be released to the individual farmer, maintaining each farmers’ confidentiality.”

Here’s how the collection process will work: A plastic water-sampling disk will be placed at the end of the field tile or within drainage water management structures during fall and spring of each year. The devices will be changed out every four to five weeks during each sample period.

Each farmer will receive a copy of the standard soil and water test analysis at no cost at the end of each sample period, with a final report to be completed when the project ends in summer 2017, LaBarge said.

The data will be used in conjunction with other monitoring projects to build the scientific base that can lead to cost-effective best management practices scenarios that will reduce nutrient loss, saving fertilizer costs and reducing downstream water quality effects.

The project is seeking farmers in the following counties to volunteer for the project:

Williams, Fulton, Lucas, Defiance, Henry, Paulding, Putnam, Hancock, Huron, Van Wert, Allen, Mercer, Auglaize, Hardin, Shelby, Wood, Ottawa, Wyandot, Crawford, Richland, Marion, Seneca, Sandusky and Erie.

More details on the project as well as a signup link can be found at go.osu.edu/farmerwaterproject. The deadline to enroll is Sept. 1. For more information, contact LaBarge at 740-223-4043 or labarge.1@osu.edu.