Michigan Fertilizer Act helps protect water quality

Amendments to the Law prohibit fertilizer use and includes best management practices for water quality.

Fertilizer spreaderBeginning this year, an update to Michigan’s Fertilizer Act, PA 299 of 2010, took effect. While there are some being proposed to the language of PA299, these do not impact some needed water quality best management practices addressed in the legislation.

Overall, the updated legislation prohibits the use of fertilizer containing phosphorus for home, commercial and municipal application except in the following situations:

  • A soil test conducted within the past three years confirms that phosphorus is needed for the lawn.
  • The fertilizer is needed for the establishment of a new lawn – either seed or sod.
  • The fertilizer is a finished sewage sludge product or an organic or manipulated manure and is applied at application rates outlined in the law.

Golf courses are exempt from this legislation if their staff has completed an approved training course; a soil test confirms the need for phosphorus and it is applied at allowed rates; or the fertilizer is used for new turf establishment.

This legislation does outline water quality best management practices not addressed in any prior legislation.

  • It prohibits fertilizer application on lawns within 15 feet of surface water unless there is a vegetative buffer at the shoreline or a fertilizer spreader guard, deflector, shield or a drop spreader is used.

Previous to this law, there have not been any distance requirements for fertilizer use along shorelines.

  • It prohibits cleaning of fertilizer spreaders in any manner that could result in the wash water discharging directly into water of the state, including drains.
  • It requires that any fertilizer that gets onto an impervious surface (sidewalk, driveway, road, parking lot) must be promptly contained either by collecting and applying to a lawn or returning the fertilizer to an appropriate container.

Previous to this, it was assumed/expected that applicators would clean up fertilizer on these surfaces to prevent fertilizer from running into surface water or storm drains that go to surface water but many didn’t.

  • It prohibits a fertilizer application if the soil is frozen or saturated with water.

Prior to Jan. 1, lawn care companies would develop their fertilizer application schedules without ensuring that the lawn was able to absorb the fertilizer nutrients.

The new legislation does not prohibit the manufacture or sale of fertilizers containing phosphorus in Michigan, but anyone purchasing fertilizer must know the criteria for use in the state.  A good rule of thumb is if it’s not being used on newly established lawns, choose a “zero phosphorus” fertilizer.  Look at the three-number row on the front of the fertilizer package.  The middle number indicates the amount of phosphorus the package contains and should be “0.”

MSU Extension, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, is developing some educational workshops on this new legislation.  There is also a new brochure that can be downloaded called Help Protect and Preserve Water Quality – Use Phosphorus Free Fertilizer.  Information on both can be found at www.BePhosphorusSmart.msu.edu

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