Legislature to Consider Neutering Counties’ Fertilizer Rules

Sarasota Herald Tribune
ERIC ERNST: Bill would take teeth from local fertilizing rules

By Eric Ernst
Published: Sunday, February 6, 2011 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 5, 2011 at 9:19 p.m.

Contrary to popular belief, or perhaps wishful thinking, a legislative bill in Tallahassee would negate the most important parts of fertilizer rules in Sarasota and Charlotte counties.
Interpretations may vary, but that’s the view of Cris Costello, regional representative of the Sierra Club in Sarasota. She should know. The Sierra Club spearheaded efforts to pass the local laws several years ago to curb the flow of phosphorous and other nutrients into bays and the Gulf of Mexico.
The bill sponsored by two Panhandle representatives would prohibit counties and cities from enacting their own rules. Instead, they would have to adhere to what’s being called “model” statewide legislation, which of course would be weaker and in no meaningful way interfere with business as usual.
The local ordinances prohibit applications during the summer when fertilizer-laden stormwater runoff is most likely to trigger algal blooms such as red tide. They also regulate fertilizer content, setting mandatory levels of slow-release chemicals that are more likely to be absorbed by plants rather than wash into the water.
It makes sense to approach the problem of red tide this way, although if reputable scientific research uncovers flaws in the logic, local jurisdictions can certainly respond with adjustments.
The bill, probably to placate opposition, purports to exempt jurisdictions such as Sarasota and Charlotte that have new rules in place. That assurance is little more than a sham, Costello says.
“The grandfather date applies only to standards not relating to fertilizer content, application timing, application placement and sale,” she wrote in an e-mail.
That means the only parts left of the Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee ordinances would be the standards relating to the management of grass clippings and vegetative material.
“All of the protective standards — rainy season application bans, fertilizer-free buffers, required 50 percent slow release nitrogen — would be eliminated.”
Apparently, having standards that fit the area in which the fertilizer is actually being used is inconvenient to manufacturers and retailers.
They want a one-size-fits-all approach to something that’s not a one-size problem. One of the most compelling reasons to tailor the rules locally is that the drainage patterns and water flows, not to mention the climate, differ from one part of the state to another.
If some businesses can’t adjust to that, too bad for them.
Plenty of smaller, more nimble ventures are ready to take up the slack, as some already have in Sarasota County.
If people want to buy fertilizer, no matter what the formula, companies will respond to produce it and sell it.
And if people use a little less, that’s OK, too, for environmental reasons.
Trying to legislate from Tallahassee, and putting oversight in the hands of the state Department of Agriculture, usurps local control, undermines protection of natural resources and just makes it a lot easier to subvert the process.
It’s probably pure coincidence, but the Lakeland Ledger published an interesting story on Jan 25. Mosaic Co., the phosphate/fertilizer giant, just paid $10,000 for a chocolate hazelnut cake entered by Abigail Putnam in the Polk County Youth Fair Auction. The amount was 10 times larger than any ever received for a cake.
Abigail is the 9-year-old daughter of Adam Putnam, Florida agriculture commissioner.
Eric Ernst’s column runs Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Contact him at [email protected] or (941) 486-3073.