In the helter-skelter and often confusing world of lawn fertilizer regulations across the U.S., some states have preempted local authorities from making their own laws, and some states have not. We’re talking preemption. Let’s start with a basic definition.
Simply defined, preemption is: “A doctrine of state law that holds that a state law displaces a local law or regulation that is in the same field and is conflict or inconsistent with the state law.”
For instance, Ohio preempts local authorities from making fertilizer use regulations on their own. The Ohio Department of Agriculture makes and enforces the rules when it comes to fertilizer use. Applicators—be they farmers or LCOs—deal with the same regulations from region to region within Ohio. This benefits the lawn care industry in that applicators don’t have to change products, formulations, application techniques or timing from region to region where they provide services within the state. It also benefits LCOs’ customers who don’t have to pay the extra cost associated with meeting each region’s unique nutrient management regulations.
Beyond that, having different laws for different regions within a state burdens regulators who have to enforce the laws. Many governmental agencies are working with limited budgets (witness the cutbacks in extension services in many states) and have enough to do already.
States such as Florida and Maryland do not have preemption when it comes to urban fertilizer use. Local governments in these states and several others can make their own rules based on what they perceive will lessen the harm (or likelihood of harm) to their water resources. In almost all cases, the purpose of fertilizer use regulations is to protect precious water resources.
Florida is the most extreme example of what happens when there is no preemption. There are at least 45 local ordinances within Florida that regulate urban fertilization. The regulations generally deal with fertilizer content (often mandating a certain percentage of slow-release fertilizer), blackout dates during the summer rain season and the size of buffer zones that separate applications from waterways.
Attempts by industry groups to get preemption passed by the Florida legislature meet with strong opposition from local governments and environmental activists, and they have been unsuccessful.