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Test your soil, or it's an overhead gutwrench backbreaker for you!

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You are probably wondering about Jesse the Body. We'll get to that in just a minute...

Here in Kansas our first day of spring might be marked by some snowfall. Yesterday, I went for a nice bike ride on a sunny evening wearing shorts for almost the first time this year. Tonight and tomorrow I may be getting the boots out again.

Jim mentioned the upcoming phosphorus ban in Wisconsin. It will be interesting to hear how that all goes down.

A few days ago, I happened to read an article in Golf Course Management that describes the Minnesota phosphorus ban that has been in place since Jan 1 2005, so I thought I would discuss that one too. Minnesota was the first state to pass a phosphorus ban.

The law was signed into place in 2002, by none other than Governor Jesse Ventura. [I was still living in my homestate of Wisconsin back when Jesse was elected in 1998. We cheeseheads were pretty surprised to see our normally calm neighbors to the northwest elect such an interesting character and thought maybe they all ate a bad batch of lutefisk that affected their judgment. Of course, in Wisconsin, they'd probably elect a beer as governor if there was a way to get one on the ballot].

But, back to the phosphorus ban. I’m simply going to summarize some things from this article—not get into wider issues of runoff. Fertility and runoff is not my area, but I found the article interesting. It describes the history leading to the ban, and a few comments on how it works. The article in GCM was written by Brian Horgan, Dept of Horticultural Science, and Carl Rosen, Dept of Soil, Water, and Climate, from the U of Minnesota. As part of the article, they describe how P cycles through an ecosystem, and they point out and cite some research that shows that a healthy stand of turf is excellent at controlling soil erosion, (denser stand = less runoff) and that P is most likely to runoff when there is a high soil test of P or when the P has been very recently applied.

As the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” Minnesota had been talking about nutrient runoff for awhile because of concerns about lake health.

In the 70’s, MN researchers found that P from decaying leaf litter had a larger effect on P runoff than did fertilizer that contained P. So, street sweeping was initiated in Minneapolis. Around the same time, it was determined that 70-80% of lawn and garden soil samples submitted to the U of Minnesota had a very high range of P.

In another survey of soil tests from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area from 1991-1994, it was determined again that 70-80% of lawns and gardens had a “very high” level of P.

So, in 2002, the twin cities adopted ordinances to limit the use of P in turf, and some other cities in Minnesota joined in. Then, as mentioned above, our friend Jesse signed the statewide law in 2002.

What does the law say?

P cannot be applied to turfgrass unless: (as stated directly from the article)

1) Turfgrass is in the first year of establishment via seed or sod; OR
2) A soil test or tissue test shows a need for phosphorus; OR
3) Phosphorus is applied to a golf course by a person trained in a program approved by the Minnsota Department of Agriculture

Golf courses were the only exemption. That is, other commercially-managed turf (athletic fields, etc) required the usual soil testing procedure.

What is the training? It is a four-hour core training with some follow up recertification based on correspondence on educational materials in their superintendent association newsletter. So far, >500 people have participated (for reference, there are ~450 golf courses in Minnesota). The U of M, the Minnesota Dept of Ag, and a committee from the Minnesota Golf Course Superintendent’s Association worked together to develop it. If you want to find out more about how the training works, check out:

What has happened?

As some of the benefits, the authors note that there is much greater availability of P-free fertilizers, which were not easy to find previously especially for homeowners. But, one of the largest benefits was the better relationship between the Minnesota GCSA and the legislature and regulators. The authors suggest that the turf industry to be proactive and get involved at the starting line when it comes to regulations rather than just waiting for it to happen.

If you want the whole scoop, be sure to check out the original article in GCM

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