Turf Magazine - November, 2012

DEPARTMENTS

Keeping It Green: We Can Live With the New Fert Laws

By Ron Hall

Turfgrass is at the center of the modern landscape industry. Its breeding, production, establishment and ongoing care have grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry this past half-century. No other landscape plant even remotely approaches its utility and its economic impact on the green industry services industry.

Turf's popularity and ubiquity rest on its environmental, economic and aesthetic properties. Let's also include a practical reason: Is there a better place for kids to play than a home lawn or a grassy park?


PHOTO BY JOE BOGGS.


A Killer in Black and White

With a proven ability to hitchhike across the globe, the Asian longhorned beetle has been found in five U.S. states. Unlike its fellow pest, emerald ash borer, ALB is known to kill a wide range of trees. So how do we rid our trees of this menace? Please visit http://bit.ly/XZr959.

While there's little disagreement about turf's many benefits, the same can't be said for how we care for it. This criticism, at least until about a decade ago, had been aimed almost solely at the pesticides (mostly herbicides) that most of us use to keep lawns healthy and attractive. Critics claim - reliable evidence to the contrary - that these pesticides pose an unacceptable risk to human and pet health.

Increasingly, our use of turf fertilizers is now also being scrutinized and spawning use restrictions, but for a different reason than pesticides. The nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers, mostly as the result of runoff, are being blamed for polluting streams, rivers, lakes and bays. Consequently, dozens of U.S. cities and counties have enacted, or are considering, regulations to spell out the types of fertilizers that we will be allowed to use (no phosphorus and usually percentage of slow-release), the amounts of nitrogen per year per 1,000 square feet, and times of year when applications will be allowed.

For example, professional applicators in New Jersey can no longer apply fertilizers with nitrogen or phosphorus before March 1 or after Dec. 1. Furthermore, they can apply no more than 0.7 pound of water-soluble nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per application and no more than 4.25 pounds per 1,000 square feet annually. By contrast, Sarasota County in Florida, and unlike New Jersey as it's a warm-season turf market, prohibits the application of turf fertilizers containing phosphorus unless soil tests indicate the element is required, and prohibits all fertilizer applications between June 1 and Sept. 30.

Who Pays for Employees' PPE?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that all employers provide the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to all workers whose jobs require it. This is a broad statement that leaves a lot of room for clarification. In the landscape/lawn service industry as well as the other sectors of the green industry, laborers must be provided with PPE in order to properly perform their jobs. So, who must pay for it? Please visit http://bit.ly/TmIcI8.

While nutrient overload in our waters is a genuine problem and action to prevent it is necessary, some of the new laws aimed at lessening the impact of turf fertilizers in waterways seem to be poorly thought out. For example, several cities and counties in coastal Florida, even though they may be adjacent to each other, now have different regulations regarding how fertilizers can be used. Also, several of the laws forbid the application of fertilizers within 10 feet of a waterway. But, what actually constitutes a waterway? In some cases this isn't clear from the language of the law.

How much did science enter into the rationale behind these decisions? That's arguable. What can't be debated, however, is the unnecessary inconvenience and extra expense it often represents to lawn care service providers in those particular markets.

But there's a positive side to the new laws, too.

While few of us enthusiastically seek additional regulation and we might grumble that some of the restrictions placed on our services are unnecessary (nonsensical?), who can argue that requiring applicators to be properly trained is a bad idea? Almost all of these fertilizer laws require that contractors receive training in best management practices (BMPs). But, what about homeowners?

My guess is that we've all seen applications made on frozen ground and other misapplications, including leaving fertilizers on sidewalks, driveways or streets to be flushed into storm sewers at the first rain. The fact is that until recently just about anyone, including contractors, could apply lawn fertilizers without any real training at all.

As bothersome as some of these regulations may seem, they have their good points, too. If they help us preserve turfgrass and its many benefits that is the cornerstone of many of our businesses, we can live with them.