Lawn care

A proposed law that has passed the Pennsylvania Senate would restrict the amount of fertilizer placed on lawns.

You may want the greenest lawn possible, but a proposed Pennsylvania law may limit how much grass fertilizer you can use in trying to achieve it.

The bill passed the state Senate 47-3 in March, and is now in the state House.

If passed into law, the bill would dictate how much fertilizer can be applied to lawns, golf courses, parks, schools, colleges, playgrounds and athletic fields.

Applications for agriculture — which faces separate restrictions on runoff of fertilizer — are exempt.

The goal is to cut back on nutrients running off of turf grass into local streams and the Chesapeake Bay, where it promotes the growth of algae that uses up oxygen needed by aquatic life.

The legislation is a modified version of a bill first proposed by former state Sen. Michael Brubaker of Warwick Township in 2014.

Expanded since Brubaker’s effort died in the General Assembly, the fertilizer bill is more aimed at lawn-care services and manufacturers of all types of commercial fertilizer, not just for turf grass.

Mandatory training

Among other things, the law would limit how much nitrogen can be in fertilizer, ban phosphorus except for use on new lawns and require professional fertilizer applicators to be trained and certified.

Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey have passed similar laws.

According to the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Richard Alloway of Franklin County, farmers and wastewater treatment plants in recent years have significantly reduced the amount of nutrients discharged into streams and the Chesapeake Bay.

“Unfortunately, as these sectors continue to implement nutrient reductions, the loads from urban and stormwater continue to grow,” Alloway said in a press release.

“In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, acres of turf now outnumber acres of corn.”

Environmental benefits questioned

With modifications in the bill, the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association has withdrawn its longtime opposition.

Still, Gregg Robertson of the association maintains that the bill will not produce any environmental benefits because many of its goals have been voluntarily adopted by the fertilizer and lawn-care industries.

“Go into any garden center or home improvement big-box store and look at what the application rates for lawn fertilizers are on the bags and you’ll see that they are already at or below the application rates contained in the bill,” Robertson said.

Asked if lawn-care services would have to raise their rates because of compliance costs for training and certification if the bill becomes law, Robertson says they well may.

He said the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which will implement  any new requirements, will need to enforce them. Otherwise, Robertson predicted, unscrupulous operators would not comply and undercut prices of those who are.

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