Jerry Whipple is doing his best to keep his fields green and nearby Lake Erie blue.

Whipple, 66, practices no-till farming on his 400 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay in northwestern Ohio. He has added grassy drainways and grass-covered strips to control weeds and keep fertilizer chemicals from washing into streams that drain to Lake Erie.

He relies on soil and pH mapping equipment to minimize chemical applications at Whipple Farms in Ottawa County.

In 2011 and 2012, he added cover crops of rye to keep soil in place, thanks to the federally funded Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. That program provided $35.46 per acre to Whipple, a third-generation farmer.

"My grandfather and father told me that they do not make soil anymore, that you need to take care of it," Whipple said. "The land and water are interconnected and we must do our part to be good stewards of the soil and water.

"Over the years, I have experienced fantastic yields. These programs work, and more farmers should be taking advantage of these funding programs to prevent soil and nutrient pollution from entering our waterways. There is so much at stake."

Whipple's comments came during a recent media tour that the Ohio Environmental Council and the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition organized to showcase the innovative steps being taken on his farm.

What's happening on Whipple's farm is an example of how the Great Lakes initiative can improve water, reduce chemical-laced farm runoff and cut the threat from harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie, organizers said.

The tour also included a stop at Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island, where Dr. Jeff Reuter, a Lake Erie expert from Ohio State University, said algal blooms probably will be reduced this year.

He said that is because northern Ohio had a dry spring and less fertilizer washed off into the Maumee and Sandusky rivers than in previous years.

Farm drainage is seen as one of the greatest threats to Lake Erie and has triggered green, scummy blossoms of algae in recent years.

Ohio received more than $48.8 million in 2010 and 2011 from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to fund 55 projects to protect Lake Erie and improve its health. The projects also create jobs and boost local economies, said Kristy Meyer, director of agricultural and clean water programs at the Ohio Environmental Council.

A $546,417 sediment reduction project along the Sandusky River is expected to reduce the phosphorous and nitrogen from farms running into Lake Erie by more than 17,000 pounds a year and cut sediments by 479 tons annually, she said.

Similar efforts with farmers are under way along the Vermilion and Huron rivers in north-central Ohio.

Other Ohio projects include $369,472 for removing invasive plants along the Cuyahoga River in Cuyahoga County; $294,693 for water-quality projects along West Creek, a Cuyahoga tributary; and $425,160 to control debris in the Cuyahoga in Cleveland.

The Ohio projects fit into the overall Great Lakes restoration plan developed by 11 federal agencies, Ohio and the seven other Great Lakes states and more than 1,500 tribal governments, scientists, business, citizens and nongovernmental groups.

Restoring the Great Lakes is projected to cost $25 billion. Lake Erie is expected to get the bulk of the federal money because it has more problems than lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron or Ontario.

Problems include invasive species, excessive farm drainage, overflowing sewers, "dead zones" or areas with no dissolved oxygen for fish and aquatic insects, loss of habitat, polluted harbors and reduced wetlands.

Ohio also has earmarked $3 million for its Healthy Lake Erie Fund.

Environmental groups are pushing to get more federal money for the program.

Congress provided $475 million in fiscal year 2010, nearly $300 million in 2011 and $300 million in 2012. The program is slated to get $250 million in 2013, but a final U.S. House of Representatives vote is not scheduled until later this year.

Revising Practices

Whipple and his wife, Cheryl, began using no-till or no-plow farming in 1978 to reduce erosion at the farm that has been in his family since 1900.

Other practices he uses are newer. He has hired the Helena Chemical Co. to map his farm fields and determine specific chemical needs.

The company, based in Martin in western Ottawa County, relies on what's called a Veris mobile sensor platform machine that is pulled back and forth across the fields to collect data and determine which areas of the field need nutrients.

That enables Helena Chemical to customize the placement, the type of nutrients and their concentrations to avoid applying unneeded chemicals that will run off the farm fields, company spokesman Todd Hecht said.

Hecht said the goal is to "keep the nutrients in the field."

Soil testing and mapping cost about $10 an acre -- an expense offset through better yields for the farmer, Hecht said.

In September, Whipple has cereal rye dropped by a plane onto standing corn. After the fall harvest, he drills the cereal rye into the ground on his other fields.

Such cover crops not only prevent weeds from growing, but also keep the soil in place. That protects nearby Packer Crick, which empties into Lake Erie.

Whipple's farming "practices are keeping nutrient-laden soil in place on the farm where it belongs," Meyer, of the environmental council, said. "It's a success story."

For information about the federal program, go to