COLUMBUS, OH-A new report released last week that combines the research of multiple Lake Erie scientists and management agencies recommends that farmers not apply phosphorus to frozen ground and keep fertilizer applications within Ohio State University recommendations. The report’s goal is to reduce the amount of phosphorus that is entering Lake Erie and Ohio’s streams and lakes.

The nutrient, an important ingredient in agricultural fertilizer, animal feedlot runoff, and human sewage, is also a key factor causing blooms of toxin-producing algae. Toxins produced by harmful algal blooms (HABs) can make animals and humans sick and the concentration of algae-produced toxins in Lake Erie has reached 60 times the amount considered safe for drinking water.

After a year of research and combining project results, the bi-national team of 15 scientists from 11 institutions, agencies, and companies, has created a report that synthesizes findings from seven research projects supported by grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Lake Erie Commission. The report, produced with support from Ohio Sea Grant, uses layman language to explain findings from the research and their management implications to head off the algae and restore Lake Erie.

The report, available at, recommends that managers and individual farmers work to:

  • Increase the incorporation of phosphorus into soil
  • Prevent applications that exceed agronomic needs
  • Reduce fall phosphorus application
  • Eliminate application of phosphorus on frozen or snow-covered ground
  • Consider getting soil tests for all fields

“The hope for this report is that we would implement these recommendations and eliminate harmful algal blooms,” says Jeff Reutter, Ohio Sea Grant Director. “While we believe that a two-thirds reduction in the current loading of dissolved phosphorus to Lake Erie will be required to solve the HABs problem, we predict this can be accomplished primarily by altering current fertilizer application strategies used by farmers without harming crop production.”

If nothing is done and phosphorus and other nutrients continue to enter the lake, the HABs problem will grow. Researchers are convinced that reducing phosphorus runoff into waterways will reduce HABs. Scientists reduced large blooms in Lake Erie in the 1960s and ’70s by reducing phosphorus loading by two-thirds.

Forests, which filter out pollution, dominate watersheds of the other four Great Lakes. But Lake Erie receives the highest levels of nutrient runoff because its watershed consists mainly of agricultural fields and urban areas. And because there is so much cropland, even small phosphorus losses from each field add up to large loads into the lake.

Jeff Reutter, Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory, Director, 614.292.8949,
Jan J.H. Ciborowski, University of Windsor, Dept. of Biological Sciences, 519.253.3000,

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