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PLNA e-News: Protecting Values In Pennsylvania

PLNA Testifies at House Hearing on Fertilizer Bill

Friday, June 15, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gregg Robertson
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HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee held a hearing June 5, 2018 on SB 792, a bill that seeks to regulate the application of fertilizer, particularly lawn fertilizer. Gregg Robertson, government relations consultant for PLNA testified on behalf of the lawn care industry in Pennsylvania.

The main aspects of the bill that would affect the lawn care industry are:

·    Fertilizer Application Business - Requires that each company location applying fertilizer for hire register with PDA and pay a $100 annual fee. The company must also keep detailed records of employees applying fertilizers and of all fertilizer applications. Each company must have at least one certified fertilizer applicator in its employ.

·    Registration Number - Requires that a fertilizer application business display a fertilizer registration number on each vehicle involved in fertilizer application at least 3” high on each side of the vehicle. PDA has committed to allow businesses with an existing BU number to use that number as their fertilizer registration number.

·    Certification Exam - Requires that commercial fertilizer applicators pass a certification exam and maintain their certification by acquiring four CEU’s over three years. A commercial fertilizer applicator must be employed by a registered fertilizer application business.

·    Grandfathered - The bill allows those with existing pesticide certifications in certain categories to be grandfathered into the fertilizer program until their core pesticide license must be renewed. At that point, grandfathered fertilizer applicators must show evidence they have met the fertilizer recertification requirements for continuing education.

·    Fertilizer technicians may be trained by certified commercial fertilizer applicators within companies. Once trained, fertilizer technicians may apply fertilizer without direct supervision. Employees not trained as fertilizer technicians may apply fertilizer, but only under the direct onsite supervision of a certified applicator.

·    Application Rates – The bill set limits on the rates at which fertilizer may be applied to turf grass to 0.9 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet in a single application. No phosphorous may be applied unless the purpose is to establish a new lawn. PDA has the authority to modify these application rates by regulation if research shows that such modification is warranted.

·    Site-Specific Plan – The application limits in the bill may be modified if necessary according to a site-specific plan that is based on soil tests conducted every three years.

·    Local Preemption – The bill contains language that prohibits local governments from developing fertilizer ordinances that conflict with the bill and prohibits local governments from levying penalties for which the state has levied a penalty.

Testifying in support of the bill were Russell Redding, Secretary of Agriculture, Marel King, Pennsylvania Director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission and Matthew Johnson from the Chesapeake Bay Program Office. Their position was that controlling the amount of fertilizer applied to lawns would reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.

Gregg Robertson testified on behalf of PLNA. Robertson disagreed with the fundamental premise that reducing the amount of fertilizer applied to lawns would reduce Chesapeake Bay pollution. In fact, Robertson asserted that, based on the science and EPA data, reducing fertilization of lawns would actually increase the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment flowing into the Bay.

EPA’s own 2013 Expert Panel Report concluded that homeowners should:

“Maintain a dense vegetative cover of turf grass to reduce runoff, prevent erosion, and retain nutrients.

“The research demonstrates that dense vegetative cover helps to reduce surface runoff which can be responsible for significant nutrient export from the lawn, regardless of whether it is fertilized or not. Dense cover has been shown to reduce surface runoff volumes in a wide range of geographic settings and soil conditions.

“If a lawn does not have a dense cover, it has an elevated risk for nutrient export, especially if soils are compacted or slopes are steep.” (page 29)

Further, Robertson pointed out that, according to EPA data, lawns in the Chesapeake Bay are under fertilized by 77%. Half of all lawns in the bay watershed receive no fertilizer at all and the 45% of lawns fertilized by DIY homeowners receive only 1.7 applications per season.

Less than 5% of all lawns in the Bay are fertilized by professionals. Further, professionals apply fertilizer in smaller, more frequent applications, as recommended by EPA. Fertilizer is expensive, and professionals have no incentive to over-apply.

Robertson estimated that the bill would cost the industry $5 million per year to implement if all businesses currently registered under the Pesticide Control Act as 07 Lawn and Turf complied.

Robertson concluded his testimony by recommending several changes to the legislation:

1.  Keep Subchapter B, Fertilizer Manufacturers and Guarantors. Contained in this section are increased fees that PDA requires to maintain this program. These increased fees will no doubt be passed along to those using fertilizers commercially and privately, but it seems a small price to pay to maintain PDA’s capacity to manage and enforce this program.

2.  Robertson said that PLNA recommended dropping Subchapters C and D relating to Applicator Licensing, Certification and Recordkeeping. Most of what is covered in this section is already a part of the current Pesticide Control Act. Operators who apply fertilizer are already covered since turf grass fertilizers typically contain pesticides that require applicator certification, training and registration. Few professionals, if any, apply only turf grass fertilizer. These chapters are redundant of what and who PDA currently regulates.

3.  Robertson said that PLNA was ambivalent about Subchapter E on Application Rates, Requirements and Prohibitions. The industry broadly is already in substantial compliance with this section. In a recent survey PLNA conducted of bagged fertilizers available in central Pennsylvania, all bagged fertilizers surveyed are now labeled for application rates below the 0.9 pounds per 1,000 square feet in the bill. All, except those for new lawn development, have no phosphorus. Most exceeded the minimum for slow release nitrogen set at 22% in the bill, and those that did not missed by only a couple of percentage points. If this section is implemented, there will be little or no impact on the current market place. The section does contain lawn fertilization best practices that PLNA supports.

4.  Robertson said that PLNA agrees with Subchapter F that a program on Agriculture and Homeowner Education could be a good thing. However, he warned the Committee that EPA, in its Expert Panel Report, could find no research that supported the efficacy of a public or industry education program (pg. 35).

5.  Finally, Robertson said that PLNA supported Subchapter G Administration and Penalties, Section 6887 Exclusion of local laws and regulations. This section will prevent a patchwork of local ordinances from springing up regulating fertilizer use.

At this point, it’s not clear what action the committee may take on the bill. Please let your state representative know how you feel about this legislation.

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