8-Month Fertilizer Ban Misguided, May Do More Harm Than Good

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Was research ignored?

In early April, the Alachua County Commission voted to impose a ban on lawn fertilizers, overreaching the state model ordinance and possibly hurting local businesses in the process.

Mac Carraway, the executive director of the Environmental Education and Research Foundation in Lakeland, is a vocal opponent of the ban, which would limit the use of lawn fertilizers to March through June and ban them for the rest of the year.

In a Gainesville Sun editorial on April 21, Carraway wrote that the ban is a misguided effort that may do more damage than good in the long run.

Carraway first notes that the Alachua County Commissioners failed the evidence test that is required by Florida statute. “To paraphrase,” he writes, “in order to establish an ordinance more restrictive than the model language recommended by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the additional restrictions must be based on science and competent evidence.”

Despite testimony citing peer-reviewed research that proper amounts of fertilizer applied to lawns and landscapes in any substantial way — including studies conducted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection itself — the county environmental staff chose to ignore, not rebut, the evidence, Carraway said. Instead, he wrote, they “merely repeated the old mythology that rain plus fertilizer applications must always equal pollution. However appealing that may seem, it is a flat-world notion and absolutely not true.”

It’s not as if Carraway is against responsible management of lawns and landscapes. He points out that there are municipalities that use guidelines as a way to protect local waters, mainly by building strong soil, plant, and rooting systems that guard against erosion (“the mortal enemy of water quality”) and filter out pollutants efficiently and naturally.

Instead, by going with this one-size-fits-none policy, it will result in weakened soil, plant, and root systems and also damage the one group of people who could most efficiently manage the proper use of fertilizers, namely the trained and licensed lawn-care professionals. These professionals are unduly demonized as causing the problems, which misses the root cause of the problem, writes Carraway.

“What really needs to happen is for all of us to focus our efforts and attention on the root causes of nutrient-impaired waters,” he wrote, “septic reform, stormwater infrastructure and sewage management, and to engage in real consumer education where the proven payoff is in long-term behavioral change.”

Carraway notes that a simple solution would have been for Alachua to adopt an ordinance similar to the one adopted in Orange County in 2009. Instead, he says, the people of Alachua County will likely see a worsening of the very thing the county is trying to prevent.

That, truly, is the real danger of the ordinance.

To learn more about the responsible use of fertilizer, visit us at https://ffaa.org/.

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