State Fertilizer And Soil Amendment Rules

Departments of Agriculture in every state regulate fertilizer and soil amendment sales/distribution, including compost and digestate products. Here’s a summary of the latest rule developments, FAQs and more.

Ron Alexander
BioCycle March 2013, Vol. 54, No. 3, p. 44

BioCycle West Coast Conference 2013 Preview

Compost And Digestate Regulations Update 

The Association of American Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO) is an organization of State Department of Agriculture representatives responsible for regulation of fertilizer and soil amendment sales/distribution (as well as liming agents, pesticides, etc.). The organization seeks to protect consumers and assist in creation of uniform legislation and regulation. The US Composting Council (USCC) has been engaged with AAPFCO for over 10 years to promote the uniform and scientifically valid regulation of compost, as well as to provide its membership with options related to the products’ regulation. The USCC has also assisted members and allies by working on issues related to anaerobic digestate (liquid and solids), food by-products, biosolids and manure recycling, and products allowable for organic certification.

Understanding and monitoring state fertilizer and soil amendment regulation is key to the legal distribution of compost and digestate products. Further, working within these regulations allows product marketers to make more informed product claims (discuss end use benefits) on product labels and legally distribute them over multiple state borders. Finally, it must be understood that related state regulations (e.g., heavy metal limits, labeling claims allowances) can act as a second tier of regulation that can impact a producer’s ability to market.

What’s New?

At the semiannual meeting of AAPFCO officials held in February 2013, important issues arose that impact (or potentially impact) the organics recycling industry. These are discussed below.

Cautionary Statement: This pertains to products containing and claiming beneficial microbe content, which may also be potential human pathogens. This issue has been discussed because many microbially-based products have come into the marketplace, some of which are also known to be, or contain, human pathogens. The cautionary statement will be required on products making claims on their label that “they contain microbes,” and will be based on the microbes known risk level (compare microbe type to Risk Group Level classification). The approved cautionary statement is as follows: “This product contains live microorganisms and may cause adverse effects to persons with a compromised immune system. Avoid contact with eyes, mouth and broken skin. Do not inhale product. Wear eye and skin protection when handling. Wash hands after using.” Although not developed or currently applied to compost or digestate products, it is feasible that this could come to pass in certain states.

Phosphorus (P) Restrictions: These are being implemented by various states pertaining to fertilizer products (13 to date). There is very little uniformity regarding these regulations from state to state, and they typically pertain to nonagricultural applications of fertilizer. Compost and biosolids based products are even written out of the regulations in some states. However, two important general statements can be made regarding these state P restrictions: 1) Composts registered as fertilizers and making P content claims are more likely to be impacted by these regulations; and 2) Going into the future, P application restrictions may impact the allowable application rates of compost and other recycled organic products.

There has been discussion regarding the development of a Phosphorus SUIP (Statement of Uniform Interpretation and Policy) within AAPFCO. The concept is to develop a policy that would suggest to states that restricting use of P may actually cause a reduction in turf quality (thinning), which would then expose more soil to the environment, thus allowing more soil to erode. This eroding soil would release even greater volumes of P to the environment. Therefore, an out and out P restriction is not good policy even in nutrient impacted areas.

Produce Safety Rules: The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposed “Produce Safety Rules” are currently under public review (through May 16, 2013), and will enact new regulations in order to improve human pathogen reduction in fruits and vegetables primarily consumed “fresh.” The most relevant part of the proposed regulation is the required treatment of manure before application (e.g., composting) or a 9-month waiting period between the application of manure and harvest. This regulation could potentially expand markets for commercially manufactured compost to produce growers, increase custom composting services on farm sites, and/or increase the number of farmers becoming commercial manure composters.

Ron Alexander, President of R. Alexander Associates, Inc. is US Composting Council Liaison to AAPFCO. He can be contacted at alexassoc@earthlink.net, www.alexassoc.net. R. Alexander Associates, Inc. is a consultancy company that specializes in compost and organic recycled product market research and development.

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