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Ohio farmer strives to improve water quality

By Amelia Hines

NRCS will provide $33 million in assistance to farmers and ranchers in 174 priority watersheds who voluntarily make improvements to their land to improve water quality.

NRCS will provide $33 million in assistance to farmers and ranchers in 174 priority watersheds who voluntarily make improvements to their land to improve water quality. 

Andreas Farm installed a buffer to help improve water quality.

Andreas Farm installed a buffer to help improve water quality.

Ohio farmer Dan Andreas strives to improve the water quality in his watershed.

Ohio farmer Dan Andreas strives to improve the water quality in his watershed.

Running an economical and environmentally friendly dairy operation is a tough job but Andreas Farms is dedicated to meeting the challenge. That challenge involves running an efficient milking operation of more than 1,500 dairy cows while also managing tons of animal waste.

Dan Andreas is a dairy man who runs the successful operation that produces 38 million pounds of milk each year, and he’s a conservationist who strives to protect his hometown’s watershed. The East Branch South Fork Sugar Creek watershed is one of three priority Ohio watersheds that are in critical need of water quality improvements.

The National Water Quality Initiative is an effort that has identified 173 of these types of watersheds around the country. As part of the initiative, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is partnering with owners and managers of private lands to install conservation practices that will not only help improve his operation but also benefit the local watershed.

Recently, NRCS announced $33 million was available for assistance to farmers and ranchers, like Andreas, for this effort.

“This watershed is highly stressed with the amount of livestock that we have,” NRCS District Conservationist Harry Kenney said. “There are probably close to 10,000 animals through this watershed.” Kenney has worked with Andreas on finding ways to reduce the impact his farm has on the Sugar Creek watershed.

Andreas has been able to address nutrient management and water quality concerns with financial and technical assistance provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

The program has helped him cover an existing manure storage lot with a roof. The roof structure’s gutters and down spouts direct rain water away from animal waste holding facilities on the farm and conveys that clean water through an underground outlet into streams in the watershed. The covered lot also helps keep manure storage dry during winter months when it can’t be placed on fields because of excessive runoff that could contaminate streams in the watershed.

Andreas Farms also grows forage for its dairy cows on nearly 4,000 acres. Cover crops on active fields help improve soil health and prevent soil erosion and nutrient runoff during the winter. Andreas says EQIP assistance makes sense because it not only helps his bottom line, it also benefits others.

“It’s important because we live in the area. I think every dairy farmer, in fact every farmer is a good steward of the land,” Andreas said. “Every year it seems that we do something better to protect the environment and that progress is shown graph after graph. We’re reducing our carbon footprint and I believe dairy farms are leading the way for getting better year after year.”

And in an area where a majority of producers run livestock operations, each individual decision makes a big impact on the small watershed’s restoration, he said.

“I think the mentality is changing,” he said. “In the 40 years I’ve been doing this, we’ve grown in leaps and bounds as far as our stewardship to the environment.”

With an outlook of improving his local natural resources, Andreas hopes to help protect the land where the dairy is located so that his son, Matt, can carry on the family’s legacy.

Learn more about NWQI. To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.