The County Commissioners’ decision came after hours of public comment from those for and against the stricter rules.
In Alachua County, fertilizer cannot be used for eight months of the year from the beginning of October.
On Tuesday evening, district officials approved an eight-month ban on grass treatment. This decision was made after an overcrowded crowd of members of the lawn care industry reached out to the board with fierce criticism of the planned embargo. Previously, fertilizer was only banned in the winter months from December to February.
The board of directors unanimously approved the adoption of the ordinance, which will come into force on October 1st.
Company officials urged the county to exempt turf professionals from the fertilizer lockout period, saying landscaping treatments are not responsible for the increased water pollution in the area.
“We’re not funding research to get out there and pollute, we’re going to find ways not to pollute,” said Andy Jorgensen, president of the Lakeland-based Florida Turfgrass Association. “Free the professionals, research the science, and let’s talk about it later.”
The ordinance limits fertilizer consumption from March to June and insists that it is the slower release variety, eliminating the possibility of grass becoming saturated too quickly. The county’s environmental protection department said that grass gets the most rain in summer. Therefore, spreading manure increases the likelihood of manure spilling into the county’s waterways.
According to reports from the US Environmental Protection Agency, high levels of nitrogen in the water cause algal blooms such as those seen in the Santa Fe River. The division references many sources, including commercial fertilizers.
“Every drop that escapes from the lawn is a threat to our springs and aquifers,” said Cris Costello of the Sierra Club, based in Sarasota.
As one audience said, these were not pro-water or anti-water arguments, but rather disagreements about ways to alleviate the nitrogen and algae glut in the county’s waters.
“The springs are our red tide,” said Commissioner Ken Cornell. “That is my concern and when talking to many in the industry that is your concern.”
Laurie Trenholm, professor of environmental horticulture at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida noted that the department’s study of nitrogen rates found that lawns do not cause large amounts of nitrogen runoff.
“A healthy, actively growing lawn is not going to cause much of the nitrogen to be lost,” she said.
Trenholm said lawn care companies should be exempted from the regulation. County officials replied that the IFAS study was conducted with near-perfect samples, unlike a typical north-central Florida lawn.
In 2011, IFAS was examined for a publication that argued that more restrictive local government fertilizer regulations were likely to have “unintended consequences”, such as increasing fertilizer use at other times of the year.
Many at Tuesday’s meeting said the fertilizer ban would cut the treatment process away from the professionals and leave it to homeowners, who often mistakenly overuse the chemicals. They added that without a fertilization period in the fall, plants will not absorb the necessary nutrients.
Another member of the UF faculty argued exactly the opposite.
Francis Putz, a professor of biology at the University of Florida, said turfgrass can only absorb so much nitrogen before the chemicals overflow.
“You put on a pound of manure, it goes somewhere,” he said. “If you have to fertilize every year, does your grass grow in biomass and become gigantic and store all that nitrogen? No, the nitrogen grows somewhere: above, below or across the drain. ”
After more than 2.5 hours of public opinion, the Commissioners decided to extend the fertilizer application months to March, as recommended by the Advisory Committee on the Environment. To ensure residents understand and abide by the new rules, the county will hold two workshops with stakeholders, including lawn maintainers, to discuss how homeowners can be enforced and trained.
Facilities such as cemeteries, sports fields, kindergartens and golf courses are excluded.
Commissioner Mike Byerly said that there seems to be some uncertainty on either side of the debate, but he argues with arguments to limit fertilizers.
“We don’t need nice Chem lawns. It’s a thrill, it’s an aesthetic taste that, in my opinion, is causing great harm to our state, ”he said.