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 (especially Long Island, N.Y.), Florida, the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi River Basin. While these efforts encompass all aspects of fertilizer use, the primary focus is phosphorus and nitrogen. A federal focus on cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay watershed during the Obama Administration brought greater attention to agricultural and urban nutrient management. The Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts serve as a “model” for watershed cleanup efforts elsewhere. EPA has pushed state and local governments to regulate fertilizers to control nutrient runoff as well as pushed 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 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 GCSAA and funded by the USGA through the GCSAA Foundation. 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.
In 2022, with backing and support from the Florida GCSA and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), Florida HB 967 was signed into law which will exempt from local/municipal ordinances fertilizer applications made to golf courses by persons who have completed training and certification programs related to best management practices developed by the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection and UF/IFAS. HB 967 serves as model legislation that promotes the implementation of golf course BMPs. Similar legislation may be pursued in additional states where nutrient use on golf courses has come under unwarranted scrutiny.