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Fertilizer - Florida Takes Action

Florida ‘retail-friendly’ fertilizer measure passes in lieu of more controversial bills

By Virginia Chamlee | 05.10.11 |

A set of controversial bills that would have banned local municipalities from enacting stricter rules on fertilizer use than those enacted by the state didn’t pass during the recent legislative session. But another, less restrictive fertilizer measure did.

A provision in House Bill 7215 would make certain that the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has the power to “enforce the state laws and rules relating to … regulation of fertilizer, including its sale, composition, packaging, labeling, wholesale and retail distribution, and formulation, including nutrient content level and release rates.” The amendment was introduced by state Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, who supported the stand-alone fertilizer bills in committee.

The provision stipulates that sales bans cannot be included in future local ordinances and that the state would have control over content and sales regulations. Local municipalities can still exercise the same controls they’ve always had over use regulations, and any current ordinances that are tougher than those of the state — like Pinellas County’s sales ban — would remain exactly the same.

Because Florida waterways are suffering the effects of nutrient runoff (large-scale algal blooms and fish kills), a growing number of city and county governments want to restrict the use of phosphorous-laden fertilizer. Senate Bill 606 and House Bill 457 both aimed to end local restrictions on phosphorous-heavy fertilizer. Many argued that the bills were a way to promote the sale of out-of-state fertilizers, which are cheaply made and therefore full of nutrients.

According to the Space Coast Progressive Alliance, out-of-state fertilizer chose to lobby state legislators rather than to make a product beneficial for Florida lawns:

They even created a Political Action Committee with Florida Fertilizer in their name but their contributors come from 13 states and Canada and include Florida Companies with only P.O. boxes, that are just fronts for the out-of-state companies. These out-of-state fertilizers poison our waters with Phosphorus which trigger toxic algal blooms, red tides, fish kills and manatee and dolphin dieoffs.

According to the Florida Retail Federation, the provision in the recently passed H.B. 7215 will mean that “a patchwork of sales regulations that exist in Florida are brought into a consistent standard while still allowing for local control.”

“With the exclusion of sales prohibitions in future local fertilizer rules, retailers can make the best use of their well-organized distribution channels and businesses will be better positioned to successfully comply with regulatory fertilizer laws on a statewide level,” said Sally West, president of the Florida Retail Federation, in a press release. “This legislation will have a positive effect on many businesses and retailers that serve as the driving force of Florida’s economy. We are hopeful HB 7215 will have the support of Gov. Scott and his business-friendly agenda.”

County says yes to fertilizer ordinance

Article published on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010
CLEARWATER – Pinellas County Commissioners voted, 6-1, Tuesday, Jan. 19, to approve the long-awaited fertilizer ordinance.

Commissioner Nancy Bostock voted no, saying she was concerned that the county’s reasoning for imposing stricter rules would not meet the state definition of necessary.

Pinellas County’s ordinance closely follows a recommended ordinance developed by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. It includes a ban on the sale and application of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers from June 1 to Sept. 30.

Jewel White Cole, assistant county attorney, explained that Pinellas County’s ordinance came about in response to Senate Bill 494, which was passed in 2009, which sets requirements for fertilizer ordinances around the state.

Cole said the state’s requirements, as a minimum, included adoption of the state model ordinance in areas, such as Pinellas County, with impaired waters. The bill also allows for more stringent ordinances if certain statutory criteria are met.

Will Davis, director of Pinellas County Environmental Management, told the board that the ordinance was more than just a fertilizer ordinance as it also regulates landscape maintenance practices.

It was a long night with the vote coming very close to midnight after commissioners heard testimony from close to 50 people.

People in support of the ordinance talked about saving taxpayer dollars currently being spent to clean up the county’s waterways. They talked about preventing red tide and its potential impact to tourism. They discussed the need to protect the fisheries. Some passionately spoke in favor of working to return Pinellas County waters to the condition they were in when the city of Clearwater got its name.

No one at the meeting spoke against the need for a fertilizer ordinance. However, nearly 30 people with ties to the landscaping or fertilizing industries found fault with the county’s stricter rules.

The main complaint was the blackout period from June 1 to Sept. 30, which the professionals said was the growing season when plants can make the best use of nitrogen.

They expressed concern that by limiting the months nitrogen can be applied, people could lose their jobs. They warned that people who wanted to keep their lawns green would fertilizer ordinance or not.

Several suggested that the commissioners delay the vote and look at an ordinance adopted by Orange County that exempts certified professionals allowing them to apply fertilizer as needed during the blackout months.

A representative from Scott’s Miracle-Gro told the commissioners that the requirement to use 50 percent slow release granular fertilizer would mean products recently formulated for use in the state of Florida to help with the water quality issue would not be allowed in Pinellas County.

Those opposed to the blackout period warned that enforcement would be impossible with homeowners driving to Pasco County to buy what they need and doing their own work.

Lastly, they spoke of unintended consequences.

One speaker summed it up. “Professionals read the labels and apply according to the directions. Homeowners tend to use the whole bag.”

Commissioner John Morroni agreed that not everyone would obey the law.

“The huge majority of people obey the law, but not everybody,” Morroni said. “But if even half the people do it we’ll be better off.”

“We have a morale responsibility to take care of the earth and keep it for the next generations,” Commissioner Susan Latvala added.

Kelli Levy, Environmental Management Watershed Division director, said most of the county’s 24 municipalities had indicated they would adopt the county’s ordinance. Currently, Gulfport and St. Petersburg are the only cities with a fertilizer ordinance.

The ban on retail sales of nitrogen and phosphorous will become effective June 1, 2011.

Correction: Removed "and applicaiton" from the last sentence.

Article published on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010

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