Witnesses Tell House Committee Of Nearly 8 Year Effort To Address Homeowner Fertilizer Use, Applicator Education, Registration

Staff from the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission told members of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee Tuesday of their 8 year effort to address the issue of overapplication of fertilizers by homeowners and to adopt a registration and education program for professional applicators.

The comments were made at a hearing held by the Committee on Senate Bill 792 (Alloway-R-Franklin).

Russell Redding, Secretary of Agriculture, said the version of the bill before the Committee was the “result of three years of development through a stakeholder process that included scientists and research institutions, industry, and our own Fertilizer Advisory Board, all with the shared goal of lowering nutrient load to our local streams.

“For the first time in Pennsylvania's history, Senate Bill 792 creates a professional certification program for fertilizer applicators and promotes best practices by all fertilizer users, yet retains important exemptions for the private application of fertilizer by our farmers who are already governed by other statutes,” explained Redding.

He explained one of the objectives of the bill is “Educating homeowners on the same principles of nutrient stewardship embodied within the 4 Rs using the "Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time, and Right Place"--for fertilizer applications can be a successful approach.”

Two representatives of the Chesapeake Bay Commission-- Ann Swanson, Executive Director, and Marel King, Pennsylvania Director-- discussed their 8 year effort to have the General Assembly address turf and lawn fertilizer practices.

“The product of that eight-year process is Senate Bill 792 as currently amended a bill that we believe is comprehensive in its approach to urban nutrient management, protecting water quality while respecting the diversity and innovation of the turf fertilizer industry in Pennsylvania,” said King.

King pointed to recent land use data showing the number of acres of land in turf is now exceeding acres of corn on farms in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

“The watershed has only continued to become more urbanized, and the nutrient and sediment loads from developed areas continue to grow while loads from other sectors continue to decline,” explained King.  “With the growing influence of urban acres on water quality, it seemed only right that nutrient management principles -- already applied to agriculture should be extended to lawns.

“This legislation is not anti-fertilizer or anti-lawns. Healthy lawns that receive the Right fertilizer can help to reduce runoff from urban and suburban areas.,” she said. “We have now reached a point where there is consensus on the language with assurance from EPA that the Commonwealth can receive credit under the Bay TMDL.”

Matthew Johnston, EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Office, explained the provisions now in Senate Bill 792 will allow Pennsylvania to receive credit for urban nutrient reduction for every acre of turf receiving nutrients from a newly certified fertilizer applicator.

One estimate is the legislation will result in a 10 percent reduction in nitrogen applied to urban turf and a 70 percent reduction in phosphorus or annual reductions of over 180,000 pounds of nitrogen and over 220,000 pounds of phosphorus pollution.

“To put these numbers in perspective, Pennsylvania would need to replant over 16,000 acres of forest to obtain similar nitrogen reductions, or over 240,000 acres of forest to obtain similar phosphorus reductions,” said Johnston.

Gregg Robertson, PA Landscape and Nursery Association, said, while crediting the Department of Agriculture with an open process for developing the current bill, “our Association continues to question the need for this bill at all, particularly those parts that regulate turf grass fertilizer and the professionals who apply it for a living.

“First, based upon the scientific research regarding turf grass fertilization and EPA's own Expert Panel Report, the bill will have no impact on water quality in the Bay watershed and may even make conditions worse.

“Second, the bill will impose real costs in the millions of dollars on Pennsvlvania's lawn care industry, which is comprised mostly of small businesses.

“Third, given the recent statement of EPA, Pennsylvania is unlikely to receive any credit for this legislation in meeting Pennsylvania's 2025 Chesapeake Bay goals.”

Click Here to watch a video of the June 5 hearing.

Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron) serves as Majority Chair of the House Agriculture Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5075 or by sending email to: mcauser@pahousegop.com. Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne) serves as Minority Chair and can be calling 717-783-0686 or by sending email to: epashins@pahouse.net.

For more information on Pennsylvania's efforts to cleanup rivers and streams in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, visit the Pennsylvania's Chesapeake Bay Plan webpage.

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[Posted: June 6, 2018]


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