Update on Proposed Turfgrass Fertilizer Legislation: SB915

January 13, 2020 in Articles

Pennsylvania government officials and turfgrass industry representatives have been debating a comprehensive turfgrass fertilizer bill for 10 years.  Although the bill has gone through several revisions, it has not been enacted into law.  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 fertilizer bill, SB915, currently referred to by its short title “The Fertilizer Act”.  This bill is similar to a previous bill (SB792) that passed in the Pennsylvania Senate in 2018 but stalled in the House of Representatives. Below is a summary of the new Pennsylvania fertilizer bill as it pertains to turfgrass.

Fertilizer licensing, registration, and components:

A portion of SB915 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 a natural organic or organic-based 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 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.

SB915 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

The new bill proposes that 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 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 of the bill 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 bill proposes 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 Pennsylvania bill contains language on fertilizer rate restrictions. Applications cannot exceed 0.7 lb of readily available nitrogen and 0.9 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 bill proposes some flexibility with respect to application rates for certain products and conditions as indicated by the following provision: “The department may establish use and application rates for fertilizer that is applied to turf.  The current rates or source of established    fertilizer use and application rates shall be published at least once every two years by the department transmitting a notice to the Legislative Reference Bureau for publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. New application rates or changes to established fertilizer use and application rates shall: (i) be based on appropriately peer-reviewed scientific research representing conditions of this Commonwealth and recommended by The Pennsylvania State University or other institution of higher education in this Commonwealth.”  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 draft of SB915 “Amending Title 3 (Agriculture) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, repealing provisions relating to fertilizer; providing for fertilizer; in soil and plant amendment, further providing for disposition of funds; in seed, further providing for disposition of funds; establishing the Agronomic Regulatory Account within the General Fund; imposing duties on the Department of Agriculture; and making conforming amendments.”

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 SB915, contact Peter Landschoot at pjl1@psu.edu or download a file from: