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PLNA e-News: Protecting Values In Pennsylvania

Fertilizer Bill Rears Its Head - Again

Monday, April 8, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gregg Robertson
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SpreaderHARRISBURG - The turf grass fertilizer bill that died in committee at the end of the General Assembly session last November, SB 1191, is making a comeback. Marel Raub, Pennsylvania director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission told PLNA President Gregg Robertson that they intended to push for a new bill in the current General Assembly session.

The old bill had been widely criticized as lacking a basis in scientific research, making no connection between the restrictions in the bill and improvement in the Chesapeake Bay waters and receiving no credit from EPA for the achievement of Pennsylvania’s share of Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals.

In addition, the bill was opposed by the Corbett administration which saw no benefits to the bill and thought it would be costly to administer.

To strengthen the bill’s scientific basis, the Chesapeake Bay Commission organized a panel of experts to review the scientific literature and develop a bill that was more science-based. Their findings were containing in recently released report, "Recommendations of the Expert Panel to Define Removal Rates for Urban Nutrient Management.” The report attempts to justify many of the limits of fertilizer use contained in the new bill.

Click here to download a copy of the current draft of the new bill. The bill has not yet been introduced. When it is introduced, PLNA expects Senator Mike Brubaker (R- Lancaster) to be the prime sponsor.

Here are the main points of the new 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 contain phosphorus.
  • 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.

First, 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 needed?

Second, 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.

Third, 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 efforts.

Fourth, 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.

Fifth, 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?

Sixth, 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 read the bill and send your comments to PLNA at We expect the bill to be introduced soon, so it’s important that we hear from you with your comments and concerns.

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