A bill within the legislature this spring would have placed limits on phosphate application in Indiana. The good news for farmers is that it didn't pass. Instead, a legislative study committee was established to look at the issue this summer. It will likely convene in northern Indiana in the lakes region where phosphorus is one of the factors that is believed to be causing trouble in several lakes used primarily for recreation.
The bill wouldn't have affected farmers in the form introduced in 2011 anyway. Instead, it would have affected lawn applications and phosphate applications on golf courses , construction sites and other commercial areas. That doesn't mean farmers shouldn't pay attention to it. Because there is a study committee, the issue could likely come back in some form again in either the next session or in the future.
"The problem we see is that once the state begins regulating phosphate applications with any industry, like the lawn care industry, then it becomes a slippery slope," says Bob Kraft, legislative specialist for Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc. Once the machinery is set in place, then it's easier to extend the regulations to include farmers, too."
The lawn care industry has already taken steps to improve stewardship in this area. Some stores that carry bagged lawn fertilizer and sell in various states began eliminating phosphate from those formulations a year ago. It's increasingly difficult to buy bagged fertilizer at a big box home garden-type store that contains phosphorus at any level.
Other states have regulated various nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, for some time. It's usually in very environmentally sensitive areas, such as the sand hills of Nebraska. Where it's been done before, it's usually designed so that restrictions are toughest in the most sensitive areas. There might not be a one-size-fits-all regulation or standard for the entire state, for example.
That's what study committees are designed to do, Kraft explains. Their mission is to gather facts and take testimony or hear information that can help legislators make a more informed decision if the topic comes around again. During the heat of a session, it's difficult to put together and disseminate the amount of information needed to get all legislators up to speed on a topic before they vote on it.