Legislative Update- Fertilizer Bill – July 2022

Governor Wolf Signs Turfgrass Fertilizer Bill in Law –  Following 12 years of debate and failed attempts to pass state-wide legislation, Pennsylvania now has a law governing turfgrass fertilizer application dates, practices, rates, and type of fertilizer used.  On July 11, Governor Wolf signed SB 251, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senator Gene Yaw (R) and Senator Carolyn Comitta (D), into law. Currently known as “Act 83 of 2022”, the new law omits a controversial applicator licensing and certification program included in previous versions of the bill, but retains the following provisions for turfgrass fertilizer applicators:

  • Applications near water: The law states that no person may apply nonaquatic fertilizer within 15 feet of the top of a bank of a lake, pond, wetland, or flowing body of water (stream, river, or creek). However, fertilizer may be applied to the top of a waterway bank if using a drop spreader, rotary spreader with deflector, targeted spray liquid or other targeted application technology when establishing and maintaining a stream buffer zone. The setbacks for fertilizer applications near waterways do not preclude environmental standards established under other federal or state laws.
  • Nitrogen: Nitrogen application rates shall not exceed 0.7 pounds of readily available nitrogen per 1,000 sq ft per application, and shall not exceed 0.9 pounds of total nitrogen per 1,000 sq ft per application, except when labeled as an enhanced-efficiency nitrogen fertilizer, where the amount of nitrogen released at any given time shall not exceed 0.7 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 sq ft.
  • Phosphorus: Turfgrass fertilizer shall contain no phosphorus except when specifically labeled for establishing vegetation (turfgrass) for the first time; reestablishing or repairing a turf area; or as an enhanced-efficiency phosphorus fertilizer, natural organic fertilizer, or organic-based fertilizer, if the application rate does not exceed 0.25 pounds of phosphorus per 1,000 sq ft per application, with a maximum total annual application of 0.5 pounds of phosphorus per 1,000 sq ft.
  • Exceptions to nitrogen and phosphorus rate restrictions: Turfgrass fertilizer applicators are not required to follow the above nitrogen and phosphorus application rate restrictions if a site-specific plan is used and is based on all the following criteria:
    • A soil test is conducted within the previous three years according to procedures recommended by Penn State.
    • Soil, plant species, climate, turf use, topography, or other appropriate management factors are accounted for in the plan.
    • Rates recommended by Penn State or another institution of higher education in the Commonwealth are approved by the PA Dept. of Agriculture.
  • Impervious surfaces: The law states that no person may apply turf fertilizer to an impervious surface (sidewalk, driveway, street, etc.). Turf fertilizer that is inadvertently applied to an impervious surface must be removed from the impervious surface immediately following the application.
  • Conditions and date restrictions: No person may apply fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus to turf at any time when the ground is frozen to a depth of at least two inches or snow covered. No person may apply fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus to turf after December 15 and before March 1.
  • Equipment: Another provision of the law is that no person may apply fertilizer with a device that is not intended for the application of fertilizer or that has not been properly calibrated; operate fertilizer application equipment or devices in a faulty, careless or negligent manner; dispose of, discard or store a fertilizer product in a manner that is inconsistent with its label, would cause over-application of fertilizer, or would result in direct discharge to a storm drain or waters of the Commonwealth.