Fertilizer Bill Explained – FAQ’s

Here’s is a simple explanation by means of Frequently Asked Questions of New Jersey’s strongest-in-the-nation fertilizer law that Save Barnegat Bay originated.

Some frequently asked questions about Save Barnegat Bay’s fertilizer law

What is the most beneficial feature in this law

This law is the first in the nation to require that any fertilizer sold or used have at least twenty percent of its nitrogen in slow release form.

What’s so important about slow release nitrogen?

As a short hand, think of slow release as being the opposite of water soluble. Your grass can only use a limited amount of water soluble nitrogen in one feeding. Left over water soluble fertilizer will either leach to the water table and then head straight for our creeks and bay, or it will get washed away as runoff and head straight for our creeks and bay.

Who says that slow release content is the most responsible form of lawn fertilizer?

You may read it on the websites of the great agricultural schools such as Cornell, Penn State University, the University of Maryland, Virgina Tech, and the University of Florida.

Where does Rutgers weigh in on this bill?

Rutgers University’s agricultural station, which is completely funded by business partnerships with Scott’s MiracleGro and other companies, does not endorse any legislation.

What does the fertilizer industry think about this bill?

They opposed it. Instead they favored a mere labeling law. Under their concept everyone would read and follow the labeling on the bag and our natural resources would be thereby protected.

What’s so bad about a labeling law?

People don’t read labels.

Will fertilizer cost more?

Fertilizer with slow release content costs a little more, but it keeps your grass green longer.

Why would the fertilizer industry oppose this important bill?

Fertilizer with slow release content costs a little more, but it keeps your grass green longer.

Will this law help more than just Barnegat Bay?

This is first-in-the-nation statewide legislation. This bill will be helpful to all water bodies in New Jersey, most of which are suffering from excess loading of nitrogen and/or phosphorus. Bills modeled on Save Barnegat Bay’s law are currently before the legislatures in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Why is excesses nitrogen a problem?

Excess nitrogen loading causes algal blooms, which greatly disrupt marine ecosystems from the bottom up. This process is called eutrophication.

Will passage of this law cure Barnegat Bay’s nitrogen problem?

No. It is just a start. We need to tackle all of the sources of excess nitrogen in Barnegat Bay. Lawn fertilizer is simply the easiest one to begin with.

What is the main sources of nitrogen to Barnegat Bay?

On account of our burning fossil fuels, each raindrop has too much nitrogen as it falls. That is the biggest source. It should be remembered, however, that lawn fertilizer is specifically designed biologically to be easily taken up by plants and algae.

Conceptually speaking, how did we make such a mess of Barnegat Bay?

Barnegat Bay’s nitrogen problem – and that of our nation’s estuaries generally – is an overlay of our clean air policy upon our land use policy. Too many nitrogen-filled raindrops fall on too much pavement and on too many over-fertilized lawns. Instead of a naturally green land surface removing nitrogen from rain water, we have a created a paved and fertilized land surface that adds nitrogen to our waters.

What basic steps need to be taken to restore Barnegat Bay and our nation’s other estuaries vis-à-vis nitrogen?

Picture that raindrop falling with too much nitrogen already in it. Four policy goals follow:
(1) Burn less fossil fuel. (2) Conserve undeveloped land and restrain overdevelopment so that nitrogen in rainwater can be absorbed by land plants before becoming algae food in the bay. (3) Reconfigure storm water management so that as much runoff as possible travels through planted areas before reaching our waters. (4) Don’t add more nitrogen once that raindrop hits the ground by fertilizing improperly, failing to clean up after pets, using urea-based pavement de-icers, and stirring up marine sediments when boating.

Will this law and the other policy goals get the stinging jellyfish out of Barnegat Bay?

Proliferating jellyfish are a sign of eutrophication. Stinging sea nettles have been in Barnegat Bay since at least 1910, but their population did not exploded until recently. In theory if we can reduce nitrogen inputs to the bay, the jellyfish population will decline. But science can provide no guarantee.

Does this law do anything for freshwater rivers, lakes, and streams?

It sure does. The big problem for fresh water bodies tends to be too much phosphorus. This bill bans phosphorus from lawn fertilizer except in special cases, such as when your soil has been tested or when you use fertilizer derived from sewage sludge such as OceanGro.

What else does this law do?

It requires all professionals who apply fertilizer to be certified by the State of New Jersey. And it sets limits on everyone against applying fertilizer: in the winter, too close to water bodies, before heavy rain, or on pavement.

What is the basic enforcement mechanism?

Non-conforming fertilizer will simply not be on the shelves in the State of New Jersey. The authorities will not be raiding your garage to do fertilizer inspections.

Will it still be important to follow the directions on the bag?

Yes. Following the directions can help you avoid putting down to much nitrogen, both slow release and water soluble.

Does this bill affect my garden?

No. It applies only to lawns.

What compromises did advocates for clean water have to make in order to get this bill to require slow release content rather than be a mere labeling law as industry desires?

As a necessary means of building a workable consensus, the law allows lawn care companies such as Lawn Doctor and TruGreen to be held to less demanding standards. These companies treat approximately 12% of the lawns in our state. For the same reason golf courses, which contribute far less fertilizer to our waterways than is generally understood, are exempted.

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Learn more about nitrogen in Barnegat Bay.

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