Update on Proposed Turfgrass Fertilizer Legislation

October 16, 2017 in Extension

Pennsylvania government officials and industry representatives have been debating a comprehensive turfgrass fertilizer bill for almost seven years. Although the bill has gone through several revisions, no legislative action has taken place to date. Faced with renewed urgency to comply with the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load program, the Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture has assembled a new document that may soon become a fertilizer bill (currently referred to as the “Fertilizer Act”). This proposed bill is in the final stages of development and has been released to the public. It has a number of provisions that were in the previous bill, but also differs in several categories. Below is a summary of the newly proposed Pennsylvania fertilizer bill as it pertains to turfgrass.

Fertilizer licensing, registration, and components:

A portion of the new proposed bill is directed at manufacturers and distributors of fertilizers in Pennsylvania, and outlines licensing, registration, and fertilizer component requirements. One of the component requirements states that turfgrass fertilizers must contain at least 20% enhanced efficiency nitrogen and no phosphorus unless the product is mostly a natural organic fertilizer. Exceptions to this rule are starter fertilizers (when used to establish or repair turfgrass areas) and liquid or readily available fertilizers labeled for turf if applied at rates less than 0.7 lb nitrogen/1000 ft2

Applicator licensing and certification:

This section of the proposed bill states that a fertilizer application business must be licensed prior to application of any fertilizer. A fertilizer application business is defined as any governmental or public entity, commercial applicator, or business that applies fertilizer on the property of another or that applies fertilizer to a golf course, park, school, college, public playground, or athletic field. Fertilizer application businesses must employ at least one certified fertilizer applicator, and this person is responsible for training fertilizer technicians on the proper handling and application of fertilizer (only a certified fertilizer applicator can train technicians).


To obtain certification, an individual must pass an exam prepared or approved by the Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture. The exam will cover safety and health issues, label comprehension, environmental protection, equipment calibration and rate calculations, and other fertilizer-related subject matter. The newly proposed bill states that a Pennsylvania certified pesticide applicator (categories 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 18, 22, 23 and 25) will be granted certification as a fertilizer applicator. In such cases, certification will be valid until the individual’s pesticide core recertification is due, at which time that person must meet all the fertilizer recertification requirements.


The proposed bill outlines a recertification process that requires four continuing education credits in practices relating to fertilizer applications over a 3-year period. Continuing education credits will be awarded based on attendance at training sessions approved by the Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture (one credit per 30 minutes of training).

Another provision listed in this document is that fertilizer application businesses must display its business license number on every vehicle involved in the fertilizer application phase.


Record keeping

Certified applicators and fertilizer technicians are required to keep records of every fertilizer application. Fertilizer records will involve names and addresses of customers, location and addresses of application sites, dates of fertilizer applications, weather conditions at the time of application, brand name and grade of the fertilizer used, rate of application, total amount of fertilizer used, name and certification number of each person involved with the application, and any other information mandated by the Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture. Records must be maintained for at least 3 years.

Application of fertilizer and prohibited acts

The proposed bill lists several restrictions on location and dates of fertilizer applications. With respect to location, fertilizer cannot be applied within 15 feet of the top of a bank of any body of water, except when using a drop spreader, rotary spreader with a deflector, or targeted spray liquid (in which case the fertilizer may be applied to the top of the bank). Another provision mandates the removal of fertilizer from impervious surfaces immediately after application. Application of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus is prohibited when the ground is covered in snow or frozen to a depth of at least 2 inches.

The new proposed bill also places a restriction on fertilizer applications after December 15 and before March 1. During this period, no more than 0.5 lb nitrogen/1,000 ft2 can be applied.

As with most turfgrass fertilizer legislation in the U.S., the proposed Pennsylvania bill contains language on fertilizer rate restrictions. Applications cannot exceed 0.7 lb of readily available nitrogen and 1.0 lb of total nitrogen/1,000 ft2 per application. Fertilizers must have zero phosphorus, except when establishing or repairing a turf area or when using an enhanced-efficiency phosphorus fertilizer or natural organic fertilizer, provided the application rate does not exceed 0.25 lb phosphorus/1,000 ft2 per application, with a maximum total annual application of 0.5 lb phosphorus/1,000 ft2.

This section of the proposed bill allows some flexibility with respect to application rates for certain products and conditions as indicated by the following provision: “Fertilizer use and application rates established shall be based on scientific research representing conditions of this Commonwealth and recommended by the Pennsylvania State University, or other Pennsylvania institution of higher education. The rates or source of established fertilizer use and application rates shall be published at least once every two years by the department in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. Use and application rates published shall go into effect 90 days after publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.” Also, when applications are based on soil tests, a site-specific plan, and other criteria listed in this section, an applicator is not required to follow application rates listed above.

The above information represents a summary of the 35-page draft of “Amending Title 3 (Agriculture) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in fertilizer, adding provisions relating to the labeling, application, recordkeeping, packaging, use, sale and distribution of agricultural fertilizer as well as turf or other specialty fertilizer; and providing for the powers and duties of the Department of Agriculture.” This summary is intended as a brief overview of the proposed bill; thus, a considerable amount of specific information is not included. For a PDF file of the entire proposed Pennsylvania fertilizer bill, contact Peter Landschoot at pjl1@psu.edu .