Diary of a Haymaker: Do more to save the bay — by doing less

For close to half a century, I’ve been making hay here in the county. Perched on my tractor, I have lots of time to think. Sometimes it feels like I can see forever.

At the very least, it gives me an interesting point of view on things, which I now hope to occasionally share with Rappahannock News readers.

As some readers know, I also serve on the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors and the local Farm Bureau. These positions give me opportunities to expand my point of view — most recently, at a conference held by the Rappahannock River Basin Commission.

Here’s what I learned:

Reducing nutrient and sediment loads flowing into the Chesapeake Bay would be drastically reduced if homeowners simply ceased to apply fertilizer to lawns and mowed higher, especially leaving their grass higher over the winter.

At any rate, according to a new Virginia law (House Bill 1831/Senate Bill 1055), the sale of yard fertilizer containing phosphorus will be prohibited beginning in January of 2014. The justification there is that the main purpose of phosphorus is to aid in the development of root structure, which is no longer necessary. But it will still be legal to buy fertilizer containing phosphorus to establish a yard.

The other nutrient polluter is nitrogen, which makes your grass greener and grow faster but is short-lived and unnecessary. It just causes more frequent mowings. Both nitrogen and phosphorus are created from petroleum.

The other component of fertilizer is potash, which is not a pollutant. It is a mined mineral that replenishes the soil after organic material has been removed. If you are not removing your grass clippings, then you don’t need it anyway.

Leaving your grass longer obviously retards the flow of rain runoff and reduces erosion.

A report released on Monday, from our neighboring state of Maryland called attention to the fact that grassy turf, not farmland, is the dominant “crop” in the Chesapeake watershed. The report suggested banning the use of lawn fertilizers with phosphorous and imposing buffer zones around streams and rivers, similar to riparian-buffer fencing for livestock.

The Maryland study showed that there are almost 1.3 million acres of planted turf in that state, compared with 1.5 million acres of all other crops. Any “pollution diet” for the Chesapeake Bay must include people’s luxurious green lawns.