Fertilizers

The responsible use of fertilizer is essential to maintaining healthy turfgrass. Healthy turfgrass allows communities to enjoy many benefits including: creation of critical "greenspaces"; providing wildlife habitat; and ensuring recreational opportunities. In addition, many entities both public and private rely on healthy greenscapes like golf courses as a key component in maintaining financial revenues. There are also many environmental benefits to healthy turf including the capture of run-off pollutants in stormwater, temperature buffer, erosion control, and serving as a protective barrier in groundwater.

GCSAA supports the development and use of science-based best management practices (BMPs) for fertilizer applications through superintendent–regulator–university partnerships at the local and state levels of government. To support this, the GCSAA will launch in 2017 the 50 by 2020 BMP initiative with the goal of having all 50 states with a BMP program in place by 2020 to ensure protection of human health and the environment and demonstrate the industry’s commitment to environmental stewardship. Fertilizer laws and regulations should be based on sound science supported by credible peer reviewed data and university recommendations. Sound science includes the recognized/accepted science methodologies and practices for research that follow the high standards of the scientific method. These standards include important investigational attributes and practices such as the formulation of a readily testable hypothesis; the use of systematic and well-documented experimental or analytical methods; the application of appropriate data analysis tools (e.g., statistics and mathematical models) to the data; and the articulation of conclusions that address the hypothesis and are supported by the results. Sound science is also reproducible until there are no discrepancies between observations and theory. GCSAA supports the enactment of state laws preempting regulation of the use of fertilizers and prohibiting local governments from adopting such laws. Local regulation of the use of these products is both costly and unnecessary. Only state designated regulatory agencies should be vested with the authority to regulate the use of nutrients. These agencies have the scientific expertise to properly determine nutrient requirements for each geographic region within a given state. Laws and regulations involving fertilizer applications should recognize golf properties engaged in environmental stewardship practices and/or programs that address nutrient management through science based BMP plans.

Efforts by states, municipalities and counties across the United States to ban or restrict the use of fertilizers continue as elected officials and citizens attempt to address concerns of nutrient loading in waterways. These efforts are taking place in all areas of the country including the Northeast, Florida, Great Lakes, and Mississippi River Basin. While these efforts encompass all aspects of fertilizer use, primary focus if phosphorus and nitrogen. A federal focus on cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay watershed has brought greater attention to agricultural and urban nutrient management. The Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts serve as a “model” for watershed cleanup efforts elsewhere. The EPA is pushing state and local governments to regulate fertilizers to control nutrient runoff as well as pushing states to adopt more stringent numeric nutrient water quality standards. As a result, activists are attempting to overturn state preemption laws. Golf course fertilizer use remains a target due to public perception that the amounts used to manage courses are a source of the nutrient loads. State-mandated restrictions and nutrient management plans can have a detrimental impact on golf courses if they are not developed with input from the golf course management industry and without consideration of existing environmental best management practices for golf courses.

Golf course superintendents have significantly decreased nutrient use rates and the number of acres being fertilized, according to the "2015 Nutrient Use and Management Practices on U.S. Golf Courses" survey that compared totals from 2006 and 2014. The survey was the second in the latest series of the Golf Course Environmental Profile reports, conducted by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) and funded by the United States Golf Association (USGA) through GCSAA’s Environmental institute for Golf (EIFG). In 2015, conservation practices account for 90 percent of the reduction in nutrient use on U.S. golf courses. U.S. courses have seen an annual reduction in the usage of the three key nutrients found in fertilizer: nitrogen (33.6 percent), phosphate (53.1 percent), and potassium (42 percent) since 2006.

Specific fertilizer issues include:

  • Nutrient Management and Management Plans
  • Best Management Practices (BMPs)
  • Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs)
  • Fertilizer Bans/Restrictions

Staff continues to monitor and take action on fertilizer issues and is working with members to provide information on BMPs for golf courses to lawmakers and regulators and help members and chapters develop formal statewide golf specific BMPs programs.

GCSAA members in Deleware, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia formed a small, informal stakeholder group in the spring of 2010 to respond in a coordinated fashion to federal, state and local Chesapeake Bay watershed cleanup initiatives.

In April 2010, GCSAA submitted comments to the U.S. EPA on the Executive Order 13508 Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Section 502 Guidance: Federal Land Management in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

In 2012, GCSAA members in the Northeast actively participated in the Northeast Voluntary Turf Fertilizer Initiative whose goal is to develop mutually agreeable voluntary guidelines on the formulation, labeling and application of turf fertilizer for the Northeast region.

In 2013, GCSAA members worked with state and local officials on nutrient pollution issues in Cape Cod, Massachusetts; worked with the West Virginia EPA on the development of a fertilizer education program as part of ongoing efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed; and continued to respond to city and county fertilizer bans throughout Florida.

In 2014, special attention was focused on fertilizer issues in Toledo, Ohio; Florida; and North Carolina.

In 2014, GCSAA Government Relations staff provided a national overview on nutrient regulation at the Indiana GCSA Golf Course Workshop: Conservation Best Management Practices.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world — the Great Lakes. During FY15 -19, federal agencies will continue to use Great Lakes Restoration Initiative resources to strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem. GCSAA is working with its chapters in the region to monitor this Initiative and identify any impacts to golf courses.

GCSAA is closely monitoring the cleanup of the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxic Zone and associated lawsuits and working with chapters in the 31 states within the Mississippi River Basin to develop BMP programs.

During 2016, GCSAA and the USGA worked with the University of Florida to develop a BMPs Planning Guide for official release at the 2017 Golf Industry Show.