Fertilizer Bill Introduced… Finally!
Monday, November 4, 2013
Posted by: Gregg Robertson
HARRISBURG - Last week Senator Brubaker introduced his bill regulating
the application of lawn fertilizers in Pennsylvania, SB 1149. The bill has been
expected since the beginning of the 2013 legislative session.
Here are the main points of the bill:
For fertilizer sold to the public, the
application of the fertilizer according to the instructions on the bag
must result in no more than 0.7 pounds readily available nitrogen and 0.9
pounds of total nitrogen per 1,000 square feet and consist of at least 20% slow
release nitrogen. With some exceptions, no fertilizer sold to the public can
The bill also restricts the application of
fertilizer to impervious surfaces or frozen ground. On unfrozen ground between
November 15 and March 1, no fertilizer can be applied at a rate of more than
0.5 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
The application of fertilizer within 5 feet of
the top of a stream bank is prohibited, unless using a drop spreader, a rotary
spreader with a deflector shield, targeted spray liquid or other targeted
application technology, in which case fertilizer can be spread to the top of
the stream bank.
Any product containing nitrogen or phosphorus
cannot be used as ice melt.
Professionals (fertilizing for hire) must adhere
to the application rates of 0.7 pounds per 1,000 square feet of readily
available nitrogen, 0.9 pounds per 1,000 square feet of total nitrogen and zero
phosphorus, with exceptions for specific soils (with test), establishing and reestablishing
lawns, or is using an enhanced efficiency fertilizer, a natural organic
fertilizer or organic base fertilizer.
Professionals applying fertilizer must be
certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, or be working under
the supervision of a certified fertilizer applicator.
PLNA has several concerns with the bill.
The bagged fertilizer available at retail garden
centers and big box stores is already at the application limits proposed in the
legislation. Scott’s took the lead on this several years ago when New Jersey
and Maryland passed similar laws and most of their competitors followed suit.
The private sector has already acted. Why impose a law that is no longer
The application rates specified by the bill are
in conflict with the science based recommendations of Penn State. In fact,
there is no scientific basis for the application rates specified in the bill.
We agree that fertilizer should not be applied
to frozen ground, but the application restriction dates in the legislation are
arbitrary for a state that spans six climatic zones. Ground freezes at
different times in McKean County than in Philadelphia County.
The bill imposes another regulatory burden on
small lawn care businesses for no apparent benefit. According to the Chesapeake
Bay Commission’s own Expert Panel, the most credible study of lawn care
behavior in the Chesapeake Bay watershed shows that only 50% of homeowners
fertilize at all, and of that 50%, 91% are do-it-yourselfers (page 34). The
Expert Panel also points out that this study is comparable to national results.
That means that only 4.5% of the lawns in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are
fertilized by professionals. Yet, professionals are regulated in this bill and
the do-it-yourselfers are not. Professionals have an economic incentive to not
over-apply fertilizer and have more training and experience than do-it-yourselfers.
The CBC Expert Panel report concludes that
"Educational and outreach are the critical link to change the
fertilization behaviors of individual homeowners and commercial applicators.”
Yet, the legislation contains no funding or program for such educational
The Expert Panel could find no evidence that a
program of certifying professionals, such as that proposed in the bill, would
result in a reduced rate of fertilizer application, or that such a reduction
would reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The bill relies on certification and enforcement
by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, a department whose staff has
been reduced over the past several budget cycles, but provides no additional
resources to do so. The Department staff resources to carry out its existing
program responsibilities under the Plant Pest Act are stretched to the breaking
point. Why pass a law that cannot be enforced?
The CBC has not demonstrated that any
environmental benefits will result from his bill. According to the CBC Expert
Panel, research has shown that healthy turf produces less runoff and pollution
than thin turf. Those that care for their lawns are actually producing
environmental benefits, not the other way around.
Please click here
to download a copy of the bill and send your comments to PLNA at
grobertson@PLNA.com. The bill has been referred to the Senate Agriculture
committee and we are preparing our comments for the committee’s consideration.