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Orlando Sentinel: Don’t change fertilizer law willy-nilly. Consider innovations.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Much debate is underway over changes to Orange County’s fertilizer ordinance. As I read news reports recounting various positions, I can’t help but feel like I’m reading commentary from five or six years ago. While the rhetoric on both sides seems the same, much in the way of innovation for lawn care has changed. A point I think, unfortunately, is being missed.

Innovation is important to me as a county resident and as the head of the R&D Field Station at ScottsMiracle-Gro, which has been in Orange County for nearly five decades.

Advocates and challengers to local fertilizer ordinances point to studies, analyses and reports that they think support their stance. One side could be right, both could be wrong, or maybe it’s somewhere in the middle. The issues around water quality in our community are far too important to guess or rely on conventional wisdom or what the next county over is doing. We owe it to each other to have a fact-based conversation.

So in 2014, my company decided to support independent research from the team at the Ocean Research and Conservation Association that would examine the sources of pollution in one of Florida’s most tormented waterways — the Indian River Lagoon. Team members hope to pinpoint what exactly is causing harm to the lagoon and sensitive water bodies like it. Our hope is that their research can improve our collective knowledge and allow all of us to have a fact-based conversation about policies and programs that are dedicated to water quality.

The most important thing is getting the science right, and that’s what ORCA and other organizations like it are doing right now.

What’s also important to keep in mind is that recent innovations in the lawn and garden space are being tailor-made to protect local waterways. Scotts, for example, has pioneered several Florida-specific innovations just in the past two years right here from the Florida field station.

Last year, Scotts introduced 50-percent slow-release nitrogen lawn fertilizer that was designed to help Floridians protect local waterways. More than $8 million and five years were invested into the research necessary to develop a reliable slow-release nitrogen technology, uniquely designed with Florida’s climate, sandy soil composition and year-round gardening in mind.

And, that’s just what we’re doing. Other companies are producing innovations of their own.

We understand that residents, elected officials and other stakeholders are concerned about water quality and the possibility that nutrients can enter local waterways, causing algae blooms that threaten the sustainability of local ecosystems.

Today, there are many more options available to Floridians that enable them to have a healthy lawn while protecting the environment. We encourage the Orange County Commission to consider new scientific discoveries and innovations as they make decisions on changes to the existing fertilizer ordinance.

And, we pledge our support to help educate area residents about protecting the natural resources that make Central Florida so unique.

Steven Kelly is the manager of the ScottsMiracle-Gro Florida Field Station in Apopka.

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