One evening when I lived in town a lawn fertilizer truck stopped in front of the house. The driver got out and asked me if I wanted him to fertilize my lawn. He didn’t know I was an agronomist. I politely said, “no thank you.” He then proceeded to tell me how bad my lawn looked and that it needed not only fertilizer but pesticides as well. I asked him to tell me exactly what he was proposing to put on my lawn. He could not tell me – he didn’t know!
That was twenty years ago. We now have a law in Virginia protecting against the indiscriminate use of fertilizers on lawns, golf courses and parks (Va. Code Title 3.2, Chapter 36). This is the result of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation with other conservation partners who well know, it’s not just farmers causing pollution in the Bay.
In the Chesapeake Bay watershed it is estimated that there are 3.8 million acres of lawns, golf courses and parks. Scientists predict this new Virginia law will reduce phosphorous pollution in the Chesapeake Bay by 230,000 pounds each year.
Farmers have been complaining about their urban neighbors for years. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “It’s not us polluting the Bay, it’s all those city folks spreading fertilizer on their lawns.”
Homeowners in Virginia have been able to purchase and apply all the fertilizer they want on their lawn whether it needed it or not.
That will stop on December 31st, 2013.
Not only will lawn fertilizer with phosphorous (for maintenance) be banned from sale, commercial applicators of lawn fertilizer will be required to be certified nutrient management planners by the Commonwealth of Virginia. They will have to know what they are applying and how to apply it correctly.
In addition, golf courses will be required to have certified nutrient management plans by July 1st, 2017.
And another biggie: Deicers for roads, parking lots and sidewalks cannot contain nitrogen or phosphorous compounds after December 31st, 2013.
This is a huge step forward and a sterling example of how grassroots organizations can work together to get something positive done for our environment despite a harsh political climate.
This is wonderful news Bobby! I think landowners should be required to pass some minimum certification also in order to apply or purchase lawn chemicals. I must be lucky as every neighbor I have ever had each time I have moved has been a blatant abuser of lawn irrigation and fertilization. If the grass doesn’t grow fast enough, they water and fertilize it until it does just to mow it more. It makes little sense. Same with school lawns. We should be growing more food for school lunches and less lawns.
Thanks Jim, boy did you hit the nail on the head!
Big kudos go out to the Virginia Agribusiness Council and the Virginia Turfgrass Council, as well as industry groups like Scotts Miracle Grow for supporting this legislation. From the beginning, these industry groups supported the concept, and throughout the regulatory process, they worked collaboratively with conservation groups to iron out the details.
This is an example of a science-based, practical approach to restoring the Chesapeake Bay that avoids wasting phosphorus – a valuable and limited resource that is critical for global food production – on established lawns where it has little to no benefit on turf production.
Kristen, thanks so much for your input and helping usher this bill through the legislature. It’s a model for the rest of the country.
That is really a great step in the right direction. Here’s hoping we can keep moving in this positive direction…..George
This is very exciting news; I just wish these kinds of policies could be instituted even faster!
So I guess the next step is to ban cattle, horse, pigs, since they produce more phosphorous than somebody putting fertilizer on there lawn. Hmm!! I wonder where it will stop.
I’m strongly in favor of science based decisions. I’m strongly supportive of efforts to protect the health of the Chesapeake. And, I’m strongly skeptical that eliminating P from lawn fertilizers will reduce its level in Bay waters.
Sentimentally, the argument could have some traction, but under what assumptions…and there are plenty in this science….will reductions occur?
I guess everybody wins. The proponents can claim a great success. The politicians win votes. The lawn fertilizer manufactures make more profit – less nutrients in the bag, same high price.
And, it probably does no harm…except to “science” based decision making. There’s good science and there’s bad science. Guess which one I think this is.
Dan, thanks for checking in and leaving your comment. I must argue though because even how there is less P fertilizer out there for Johnny Homeowner to indiscriminately apply to his lawn. I’ve never seen a homeowner calibrate their spreader and very few actually take soil samples to find out how much they actually need. Do you feel the same way about the ban on Phosphorous in laundry detergent?
I simply wonder about the “quoted” science behind this decision. Over the years, in defense of agriculture, I’ve done some ‘research’ on the subject. Too little space here to explain.
And, I don’t remember my soil science as I should. Doesn’t applied P bind tightly to soil particles? Doesn’t P applied to “grass” have a solid chance of staying where it was applied?
Here’s the thing. Using industry data, how much fertilizer was sold? How much was applied to lawns? How much does a lawn/golf course/park plant material use?
And, if we know those numbers — or assume we know those numbers — can we not infer if fertilizer is over or under supplied?
From a macro perspective, my old (like me) research would indicate lawns are under supplied. I know, I know….we all have stories about that one guy next door….
And, I don’t know about the science (feelings have nothing to do with this Bobby) behind the ban on P in laundry detergent.
Again, my only distress is that the anticipated reduction in P may not materialize. If it does, great! Only I am the fool. If it doesn’t…..
Dan, I share your “wonder” about “projected” or “modeled” anticipation of P reductions. I especially wonder about the anticipated reductions from nutrient management “plans” and cover crops that have already been counted; nonetheless, we must as advocates of cleaner water keep pushing the envelope.
The only true measure of what we are trying to do is in the water itself of course (I think this is your point)…second best is management actually applied to the land and thirdly and furthest removed is what we model.
I truly appreciate your thoughtfulness, time spent here and hope you will continue to give me input.
Professor, this really got me thinking about our lawn back home. My family works as grounds keepers for a property owned by some folks from Northern Virginia who like their lawn green looking like something strait out of a story book. I believe every season they have a company come in and spread herbicides and fertilizers on it keeping it in pristine condition. When I go home for Thanksgiving break I’ll have to talk to my parents and see how (if at all) this bill is going to effect their method of lawn care.
Brian, good for you, that’s what this class is all about. Do they know what is being applied and if they need it? And thanks for reading more posts.
Here is an idea. Let’s have better promotion of the soil testing services offered by the state universities. I had to hunt to find information. Why not make it easier if ( big box store giants) advertise it. The concept is simple see what your own needs rather then just throwing stuff on them.
Hi there, Great tips by the way and thank you.
I did have a question though. I’m hoping you can answer it
for me since you seem to be pretty knowledgeable about gardening.
Will a DIY vinegar herbicide affect soil acidity? I have a
garden bed that I want to use herbacide on but I
don’t want to ruin the soil. If you had some insight I
would greatly appreciate it.
Thanks for stopping in. Vinegar is an acid; therefore it will lower the pH of the soil. I would recommend a simple pH test before the application if the pH is above 6.5, no worries. Apply the DIY herbicide. Test the pH again. Apply agricultural lime according to a soil test.