Hernando's new fertilizer ordinance is a start — barely

Hernando County’s ordinance limits the application of fertilizer from Jan. 1 to March 31.

Times files

Hernando County’s ordinance limits the application of fertilizer from Jan. 1 to March 31.

I've heard people call Hernando's fertilizer ordinance, adopted last week by the County Commission, a "good start."

And if it's just that, a start, maybe it is good.

It requires people who apply fertilizer for a living to be registered with the county, which will make it easier to ensure that they know how to do their jobs responsibly and to punish them if they don't.

Creating 10-foot no-spray zones around lakes and rivers and other bodies of water is a no-brainer. So is the prohibition on spraying immediately before or during monsoon-like downpours.

But if we think of this as anything more than a start — if we let this illusion of action stand in for the real thing — then it's not good at all.

It's not good if people think we're anywhere close to addressing the issue of nitrogen pollution, the cause of the sludgy algae fouling our most valuable natural feature, Weeki Wachee Spring.

It's even worse if we let commissioners, who were forced by the state to adopt this ordinance because they failed to take earlier action to protect Weeki Wachee, point to this measure as evidence that they actually care.

The main piece of fakery here is Hernando's answer to the summer fertilization bans that the turfgrass industry and their friendly researchers at the University of Florida have fought all over the state.

We're the first county in Florida to shift the restricted period to the winter — from Jan. 1 to March 31 — which, believe me, is not a proud distinction.

This is a not a seasonal ban, not for licensed pros. The law gives them the right to apply all of the expertise gathered at their one-day state best management practices course and fertilizer on dormant St. Augustine grass during a time of year when it shouldn't be sprayed at all.

"As a general rule, the first fertilizer application of the year should be early April in Central Florida," says a document on the state Institute of Food and Agricultural Science's website written by none other than UF professor Laurie Trenholm — the same professor who helped Hernando write the ordinance that allows winter spraying.

There is, of course, such a thing as slow-release fertilizer, which rain doesn't immediately wash into the aquifer and which can hang around until the grass actually starts to need it. You may be comforted that the new ordinance limits winter applications to just this kind of product.

Don't be. The law doesn't say what it means by "slow release" and instead relies on a state label that can be slapped on any mix with more than 15 percent of slow-release fertilizer. Which means it's mixed with a lot of nitrogen that can wash immediately into the aquifer.

The argument against summer bans, according to Trenholm, is that they keep grass from being fertilized during the rainy season, when it most needs fertilizer and is most able to absorb large amounts of it.

Because summer is also the time of heavy rains that can push more fertilizer into our springs if it's dumped on lawns that are not healthy enough to absorb it, that would seem to be the perfect time to limit spraying to licensed professionals.

Instead, our law makes this open season for any yahoo with a credit card and access to a Lowe's.

A good start? Maybe. But all that really means is that we have a lot of work to do.

Hernando's new fertilizer ordinance is a start — barely 11/19/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 2:39pm]

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