Siding with Ohio farmers instead of Gov. John Kasich over reducing field runoff of fertilizers that contribute to algal blooms in western Lake Erie apparently has cost Ohio Agriculture Director David Daniels his job.
Daniels, chosen as director by Kasich in 2012, said he was summoned to the governor’s office Friday and handed a letter reminding him he served at the pleasure of the governor — and was being dismissed immediately.
He received no explanation from Kasich’s lieutenants. But, Daniels believes that he was fired over his reservations about an executive order issued by Kasich on July 11 described as “aggressive new action” to require farmers to reduce the runoff of fertilizers that contribute to algae formations that foul Lake Erie.
“There are concerns the current proposal is unworkable … They (the governor’s office) were clear about the direction they wanted to go and I expressed my concerns,” Daniels said. He pointed to a lack of information about what will work best to curtail fertilizer runoff into eight northwestern Ohio watersheds, including the Auglaize, Blanchard, St. Marys and Ottawa rivers.
“We all want the same thing,” Daniels said. “We all want clean water and farmers want to be able to keep their nutrients on the ground.”
But there’s not enough available expertise, financial assistance and farm-specific information to help the owners of 7,000 farms come up with plans to manage and reduce fertilizer runoff, particularly phosphorus, he said.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture referred questions about Daniels’ departure to Kasich’s office, with spokesman Jon Keeling declining to comment.
Kasich’s self-described bid to “kick (runoff) efforts into overdrive” have stalled before the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission, which has not acted on a necessary request to designate a portion of northwest Ohio as “watersheds in distress” to move forward with Kasich’s directive. Keeling declined to discuss the matter.
A commission task force has scheduled a special meeting for Thursday at which it announced it will evaluate Kasich’s proposal to declare the waterways in distress. Fred Cash, of Richmond Heights, co-chairman of the commission and chairman of the task force, did not respond Monday to a request for comment.
Citing widespread opposition from farmers, Daniels said, “There has to be industry buy-in” from Ohio’s agricultural interests to effectively reduce fertilizer runoff that can pollute Lake Erie drinking water and recreation.
Daniels said he believes conservation efforts, such as planting winter “cover crops” and planting buffer strips between fields and waterways, can help reduce runoff and should be pursued.
Ohio Farm Bureau spokesman Joe Cornely said farmers have “expressed a lot of reservations about (Kasich’s) order and have tried to communicate to the administration what those reservations are.”
“There’s a lack of solid, reliable data on what steps actually will work,” he said. “The problem with the governor’s order is that it throws out all these steps to be taken, but we don’t know if it will work.”
While declining comment on Daniels’ dismissal, Cornely said, “There’s no doubt Dave Daniels had the best interests of Ohio agriculture in mind.”