Proposed phosphate fertilizer ban

Today I received an email alerting members of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests to a proposed ban on phosphate-containing fertilizers in the state of Washington.  Here’s part of the text of the email (I’ve removed underlining, bolding, highlighting etc. so this reads as objectively as possible):

“Concerns with the HB 1271 & SB 5194 banning the sale of fertilizer containing phosphorous:

1) The intent section contains scientifically inaccurate statements, creating a false precedent that turf fertilizer is a significant surface water pollutant and is not necessary for a healthy lawn.

2) It grants the authority to regulate fertilizer sales and use to the Department of Ecology (Currently, the Department of Agriculture regulates fertilizer content and registers it for sale.)

3) It changes the definition of fertilizer used by the Department of Agriculture, creating confusion.

4) It is inconsistent and will be ineffective because it exempts “natural organic sources.” Organic products are high in phosphorous. The ecosystem cannot tell the difference. All fertilizer should be regulated equally.

5) It fails to recognize the expertise of trained lawn care professionals, who should not be prohibited from providing quality service to their customers, including publicly owned golf courses, parks, and sports fields.

6) As written, it bans the use of phosphorous fertilizer for forestry, house plants, shrub beds, golf courses, sports fields and other uses. It is unclear as to private commercial property.

7) It bans the sale of phosphorous fertilizer for flower and vegetable gardens, forestry, house plants, shrub beds, golf courses, sports fields, and many other uses.

8) It bans retailers, including farm stores and ag dealers, from displaying any type of fertilizer containing phosphorous.

9) It fails to address the primary causes of impaired water quality. Regulating something because it’s easy without addressing root causes of the problem accomplishes nothing.”

So, readers and colleagues, do a little homework over the weekend.  Look at the bill itself (both the house and senate bills are the same; the link is for the house bill).  Are these nine concerns valid?  Discuss.

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

6 thoughts on “Proposed phosphate fertilizer ban”

  1. wow, what a mishmash! this is a mix of false commonsense and irrationalisms (is that really a noun?). I’m not going to comment on the science involved here but I’ll comment on the logic and/or the harsh reality of these statements. the bill itself is really short. I wasn’t gong to read it, decided I should if I was going to comment and it was much easier to understand than I expected.

    1) Regardless of whether or not phosphorus is required for healthy lawns, if a substance is polluting our environment it probably shouldn’t be used. They declare that two statements from the bill are inaccurate. Are they?
    2) This is misleading, probably deliberately. The bill declares that the Dept. of Ecology will certify laboratories for soil testing, nothing else.
    3) Yeah, new laws tend to change definitions, which sometimes causes confusion. That doesn’t mean it’s not necessary.
    4) This one makes sense to me, but I’d love to hear a scientis
    t weigh in on this.
    5) Professionals have proven over and over again that they are not effective at regulating themselves to the good of all. However, the bill does allow phosphorus to be applied by certified lawn care professionals if laboratory tests determine that the area is low in phosphorus. The bill seems to say that what levels are considered deficient is determined by the WSU extension service.
    6) Private commercial property that is not: “forestry, house plants, shrub beds, golf courses, sports fields and other uses”. What could that be? The bill is actually pretty clear in that allows for the use of phosphorus fertilizer for the use of establishing new lawn seedlings or sod or for commercial sod agriculture or other agricultural uses.
    7) Yes, it bans the sale for those uses, that’s the intent of the bill right? Snarkiness aside, the bill goes about defining what’s allowed and not allowed for phosphorus treatment in a much clearer manner than these statements make them out to be.
    8) You can’t sell it and you can’t display it, makes sense.
    9) another misleading statement. “It fails to address the primary causes of impaired water quality” that’s probably true but “impaired water quality” is a pretty big blanket. The bill specifically mentions the problem it’s trying to solve: “Phosphorus loading of surface waters can stimulate the growth of weeds and algae and that this growth can have adverse environmental, health, and aesthetic effects”

  2. I haven’t read the legislation yet but in Lindas email it sounds like “Washington Friends of Farms & Forests” is a dealer/manufacturer organization and it is:

    “We advocate for applicators, dealers, and growers at the state level and team up with other state and national organizations to work on regional and national issues. Members include agricultural producers and organizations, timber producers, agricultural suppliers and urban applicators.”

    “4) It is inconsistent and will be ineffective because it exempts natural organic sources. …”
    How are you supposed to remove phosphorus from Compost, Manure, etc?

    “6) As written, it bans the use of phosphorous fertilizer for forestry, house plants, …”
    How does house plant fertilizer pollute the ecosystem? I’m sure it gets in there but probably not significantly.

    (I tried to format this comment to be readable and hope it works).

  3. I am gardens supervisor at the Bahai World Center in Haifa, Israel.
    Years ago it was decided that we cut down on phosphorous fertilizer. Since we produce our own compost from our own plant material, it was imperative that we not use any phosphorous fertilizer, that would eventually come back to the garden in the compost that we use in ever higher quantities (the more we produce, the more we use).
    The only times we do use phosphorous fertilizers are when we find deficits after soil sample tests (once a year on the lawns), or when we suspect deficits in our planters – which is very rare. Since I prepare my own fertilizer, I can attest that this minimal use of phosporous fertilizer never produced an adverse effect in our plants. This includes the annuals in our planters- we simply refresh the planter mix with organic material every season before replanting.

  4. Does this only pertain to Washington? Either way this all sounds very confusing. Would it apply to a residential yard? For instance I have a large lawn of sod in Arizona, so would this even apply to me and how I take care of my lawn?

  5. Yes, Katie, it’s just for the state of Washington. But ask yourself…if you have a soil test done and your soil contained plenty of phosphorus, why would you want to add any more? It doesn’t keep you from adding other types of fertilizer.

  6. Thanks Linda. I’ll definitely make sure to stay away from it. Would you say that steer manure is a safe bet as a go to fertilizer?

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