4.2 Reinstate public reporting on fertilizer distribution by FDACS

Key Message: Publicly accessible data on the distribution and sale of fertilizer by category and by county is urgently needed to accurately estimate nutrient loading from fertilizer, assess compliance with fertilizer regulations, and track the success of educational efforts.

Importance

Readily available data on the distribution and assumed sale and use of fertilizer at the county level is urgently needed to estimate gross nutrient inputs from fertilizer application and assess effectiveness of targeted policies and educational outreach on fertilizer practices. Regular online reporting of these data by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), without requiring a public records request, would facilitate dissemination and use. Details about tonnage, nutrient composition, and end-user are important to inform nutrient management.

Overview

Regulation of fertilizer in Florida began in 1889 with the first fertilizer law to test and inspect fertilizer products. Under state law, fertilizer is broadly defined as any plant nutrient or soil amendment except raw manure, peat, or compost. Today, almost 2 million tons of all types of fertilizer are distributed annually across Florida, with 10,000-15,000 tons delivered to Sarasota County each year (FDACS 2020).

The manufacture, sale, and distribution of fertilizer is regulated by FDACS under F.S. Ch 576, including requirements for licensing, reporting, and product labeling. Florida’s Urban Turf Rule (F.A.C Ch 5E-1) further regulates fertilizer products sold for urban lawns, requiring specific and conspicuous labeling describing appropriate application rates, frequency, and other best management practices (BMPs) (see Chapter 4.3). Any product labeled as organic fertilizer under Florida’s Commercial Fertilizer Law must contain at least 60% of the nitrogen in slow-release form.

Nutrient analysis of a lawn fertilizer showing that 72.5% of the nitrogen components are slow-release.

Licensed fertilizer manufacturers and distributors report the tonnage of fertilizer distributed to each county to FDACS monthly, with detail on nutrient composition, form, and end-user type. Until June 2012, FDACS publicly released annual reports of fertilizer distribution by county. Currently, FDACS only posts annual reports of tonnage by licensee on the web, and a public records request is necessary to acquire other detailed reports. 

In fiscal years 2016-2018, manufacturers distributed 7,585 tons of nitrogen-containing fertilizers to Sarasota County, with 99.8% in the form of inorganic N-P-K formulas (FDACS 2019, unpublished data). About 53% of nitrogen was distributed for use on golf courses and athletic fields, 30% for use on residential lawns, 14% on farms, and the balance for use in gardens, landscaping, nurseries, and greenhouses (Figure 4.2.1).

Figure 4.2.1. Distribution of nitrogen-containing fertilizer to Sarasota County in FY 2016-2018. Source: FDACS

Approach

A simple internal policy change by FDACS Bureau of Licensing and Enforcement Division of Agricultural Environmental Services would allow public reporting of fertilizer sales and distribution. To request the policy change and initiate action, a formal letter of request from a coalition of prominent community organizations could be submitted to FDACS’ Director of External Affairs and Southwest Regional Director with a copy to the Agricultural Environmental Services office. 

Resources

  • FDACS Staff
    Stephanie McClung, External Affairs Director
    Shahra Anderson Lambert, Regional Director — Southwest Florida
    Steven Harley, Environmental Manager — Division of Agricultural Environmental Services

Status

No Activity

Performance Measure

FDACS public reporting of annual fertilizer distribution by County

Experts or Leads

Alan Jones, Jones Potato Farm (contact for Agricultural Commissioner); Jon Thaxton, Gulf Coast Community Foundation (lead for local coalition); Jennifer Shafer, Science and Environment Council (lead for local coalition)

Cost Estimate

< $10,000

Related Activities

Chapter 4.3

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Other Fertilizer & Soil Activities

4.1 Estimate nutrient loading from fertilizer

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4.3 Strengthen local fertilizer ordinances and improve compliance

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4.4 Deliver targeted education and resources to HOAs

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4.6 Deliver targeted education and resources to farmers and ranchers

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