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New Labeling on Seaweed Fertilizer Explained

EPA requires agricultural advisement on the popular growth amendment.

Brown Sea KelpGardeners have been using kelp and seaweed extracts for years, outdoors and in. The results are well-known. Seaweed is a tonic for plants at all stages, stimulating root growth, aiding chlorophyll production, invigorating cuttings and bare root starts. It delivers small amounts of nitrogen, potash and phosphorus and contains a wide spectrum of trace minerals in a form that plants can use. It contains other nutrients, including plant hormones and amino acids.

Kelp products come in many forms. Those who live along clean, coastal waters are known to collect it, rinse it well to remove salts and add it to their compost piles (seaweed collection is often requires a permit; check your state and local regulations). It’s often diluted for use as a fertilizer in regular watering of plants and used as a foliar spray to invigorate plants and help control fungus and pests like aphids. Some gardeners — I’m one of them — truly see it as a miracle product.

Derived from fresh Norwegian sea kelp (Ascophyllum nodosum), Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed contains over 70 minerals, micronutrients, amino acids and vitamins. It is a non-polluting, renewable plant food that is OMRI listed for use in organic farms and gardens. Perfect for trees, shrubs, flowers, lawns, fruits and vegetables.

In the last couple years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has looked at some kelp and seaweed fertilizers and decided that they should fall under one of two categories. It’s either a plant growth “regulator” (PGR) or a plant “vitamin hormone.” As a plant growth regulator, seaweed must be put through a lengthy process that includes long and expensive testing. As a plant hormone, it must carry an EPA-approved statement that says it is not approved for use on food crops. It also requires careful labeling. No fruit or vegetables, say a tomato, can be pictured on the label. That would be a violation of EPA rules and would carry a stiff fine.

The designation may seem strange to those of us who’ve used kelp fertilizer products on everything from our houseplants to our vegetable gardens. What difference does it make what you label the mechanisms that make the amendment so effective? Liquid seaweed is, of course, still available and no different except for the label on the bottle. Individual gardeners will want to make their own decisions on taking precautions with these naturally derived products. If your houseplant needs a perk-up, I wouldn’t hesitate. But after years of success using it on tomatoes, I think most of us would decide to stop using it somewhat resentfully, if that indeed is what we decide.

There is some evidence that suggests kelp does have PGR properties. This study suggests that some of the benefits include potential PGR activity which may make it a growth regulator. The study’s abstract states that the mechanism by which these products work is not well understood. What harm they might have on humans doesn’t seem to figure in.

Gardeners, especially organic gardeners, are well-practiced at taking precautions with even the safest of products they use on their homegrown produce and even on their lawns and flower gardens. No doubt, that will be the case here, even as common sense prevails.

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9 Responses to “New Labeling on Seaweed Fertilizer Explained”

  1. Matt Ceplo on June 29th, 2016 at 5:17 pm #

    Does this mean it will have to get a registration number? Become a “pesticide” like other growth regulators? It will take years and a ton of money. I can see kelp becoming illegal to apply. Just crazy. Better to say it is a vitamin-booster or something like that.

    • E. Vinje on June 30th, 2016 at 5:29 am #

      Yes it does. Currently, Maxicrop lists “This product is not intended for agricultural use on any food crops.” on their label while they work through the application process which is both time consuming and very expensive.

  2. Dana Stewart on June 30th, 2016 at 7:34 am #

    This is stupidity at its worst. More than seventy years of research has taken place on the study of seaweed. Seventy years of Tee Seens life at Clemson University. His research is published in many papers and books all over the world. A product that has been used over 2000 years all over the globe. Every food source on earth has been grown with the use of seaweed. The EPA officials need to find better things to do with their time. It makes one wonder if big business has their hands in the EPA’s agenda? Maybe they should make our water companies label their ingredients not for human consumption.

  3. Emily Murphy on August 11th, 2016 at 11:47 am #

    Eric, thanks for reporting on this! Great info — tho I must say I’m sooo disappointed with these possible rulings. Such a bummer. I use liquid seaweed for nearly everything — truly a bit of magic! Emily

  4. Ben on December 3rd, 2016 at 10:06 pm #

    I saw the ‘no agriculture’ statement on my maxicrop liquified seaweed (along with ‘chlorine not more than 1%) and it got me looking into it since I use on wheatgrass and microgreens. Anyone have any input on this product’s safety in that usage? Thanks!

    • E. Vinje on December 4th, 2016 at 8:06 am #

      Ben – We’ve used Maxicrop for years and love the product — love the company too! Personally, I am not sure why the government is concerned about kelp products.

  5. Morgan on February 13th, 2017 at 7:23 am #

    This is all about money and everyone getting their piece of the pie.

  6. Dave on August 17th, 2018 at 6:51 pm #

    It’s been two years since you guys published this. Did you ever get certified to change the label on the product? Or do you know of any changes in the laws at this point regarding kelp based products? I really need to know. Thank you


  7. Bill Prosser on February 20th, 2020 at 10:11 am #

    Ben, the companies that the EPA has addressed made claims on their labeling that included or implied PGR’s and / or pesticide statements. EPA is not requiring agricultural advisement on the kelp labels unless the companies want to claim PGR’s or pesticide properties. So far the many of the companies that made the claims are or have changed their labels to remove the claims.

    Seaweed has and always will be an incredible supportive addition to the garden.

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