BARTOW — Mosaic Co. officials apologized Tuesday morning for failing to inform the public in a timely manner that contaminated water from its plant had been dumped into the Floridan Aquifer.
“We deeply regret we didn’t come forward sooner,” said Walt Precourt, senior vice president of phosphate for the company. “Any explanation about why we didn’t (come forward) would ring hollow.”
The leak occurred after a 45-foot wide, 300-foot deep sinkhole opened under a gypsum stack at its plant in Mulberry.
POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A massive sinkhole on top of a Mosaic gypsum stack near Mulberry allowed millions of gallons of contaminated water to flow into the Floridan Aquifer.
Eagle 8 flew over the huge chasm in the earth and spotted a cascading waterfall in the middle of what looks like a moonscape. The is happening in the New Wales plant off Highway 640, south of Mulberry.
The sinkhole opened up almost three weeks ago. Since then, about 215 million gallons of contaminated water have drained into the aquifer. The sinkhole is about 40 feet across. It’s depth is unknown.
It sits right in the middle of a massive gypsum stack. Gypsum comes out of the plant after the company produces phosphate fertilizers and animal feed ingredients.
On Aug. 27 workers monitoring water levels discovered a drop. “When it was first noticed, we installed pumping systems to move water out of that compartment on the gypsum stack, to recover the water,” said David Jellerson, Mosaic’s director of environment and phosphate projects.
The water is contaminated with phosphoric acid and is slightly radioactive. Not all of it is being caught by pumps.
You wouldn’t want to drink it, but so far, Mosaic engineers don’t believe the water is making it to private wells.
Please watch and help and engage with our fellow Floridians in North Florida.
Friday April 29th, at 6:30pm workshop in Bradford County on the mining, for citizens to ask questions, provide testimony and gather information from the attendees.
Public comments will be heard at both meetings so please attend and show your support!
We want to make people aware of the reality of phosphate strip mining that has already destroyed over thousands of acres in Peace River Heartland. Located in DeSoto County on US 17 South near Nocatee, Florida. Please visit and follow for the most up-to-date information concerning your community.
Cover Crops, a Farming Revolution With Deep Roots in the Past
By STEPHANIE STROM – February 6, 2016
When Mark Anson came home with his hair on fire after a seminar on the seemingly soporific topic of soil health, his younger brother, Doug, was skeptical.
What had Mark lit up was cover crops: fields of noncash crops like hairy vetch and cereal rye that act on soil like a nourishing facial after the harvest.
Mark, 60, and his two brothers, together with assorted sons and sons-in-law, run Anson Farms, a big commercial soybean and corn operation in Indiana and Illinois. Concern about the soil quality of the family’s fields had nagged at him for some time. “Our corn was wilting when temperatures hit 103 degrees,” he said, and such heat isn’t so unusual in the summer. “I felt like I had a gorilla on my shoulder.” What he learned about the benefits of cover crops gave him hope.
But to Doug, planting some noncommercial crops seemed an antiquated practice, like using a horse-drawn plow. Cover crops had long been replaced by fertilizers. Still, he shared his brother’s concern about their soil. Its texture was different, not as loamy as it had once been, and a lot of it was running off into ditches and other waterways when it rained.
So in 2010 the family decided to humor Mark by sowing some 1,200 acres, which Mark describes as highly eroded farmland, with wheat cleanings and cereal rye. Additionally, they spread some cover crops to eroded areas in a few fields.
The next spring, Doug had to admit that the soil texture on that strip was better. And the water that ran off it during a rainstorm was clear, a sign that the roots of the cover crops were anchoring valuable topsoil in place.
But Doug didn’t become a believer until 2013, when the family was grappling with a terrible drought. “In the part of a field where we had planted cover crops, we were getting 20 to 25 bushels of corn more per acre than in places where no cover crops had been planted,” he said. “That showed me it made financial sense to do this.”
Now some 13,000 of the 20,000 acres that the family farms across nine counties are planted with cover crops after harvesting, and farmers around them are beginning to embrace the practice.
Cover crops are coming back in other areas of the country, too. The practice of seeding fields between harvests not only keeps topsoil in place, it also adds carbon to the soil and helps the beneficial microbes, fungus, bacteria and worms in it thrive.
These properties have led philanthropies like the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation to underwrite research on cover crops, while Monsanto, together with the Walton Family Foundation, recently put up the money to support the Soil Health Partnership, a five-year project of the National Corn Growers Association to identify, test and measure the impact of cover cropping and other practices to improve soil health.
Cover cropping is still used only by a small minority of farmers. When the Agriculture Department asked for the first time about cover cropping for its 2012 Census of Agriculture report, just 10.3 million acres — out of about 390 million total acres of farmland sown in crops — on 133,124 farms were planted with cover crops. The next census won’t be done until 2017, but experts say that the practice has spread. In an annual survey of about 1,200 farmers, the mean acreage reported as being sown in cover crops was 259 in 2014. That was double the mean reported by respondents in 2010, though results are not directly comparable because different farmers may have been involved in the surveys, said a spokesman for the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education, a federal government program, which conducted the survey.
“We’ve never seen anything taken up as rapidly as using cover crops,” said Barry Fisher, a soil health specialist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency within the Agriculture Department.
Interest in cover crops is coming from buyers, too. Dan Barber, a prominent chef who uses locally grown foods, has championed incorporating cover crops like clover and millet into cuisine as a way of encouraging farmers to grow them.
The Blue Ox Malthouse in Maine was established to coax farmers there to grow barley as a cover crop, which the company then turns into malt that is sold to the state’s craft beer industry. Half a dozen farmers are producing good-quality barley as a cover crop, and others “are interested in turning the grains they’ve been growing as cover crops into something there’s a value-added market for,” said Joel Alex, Blue Ox’s founder and maltster.
One measure of how rapidly the practice is growing is the booming demand for cover crop seeds. Keith Berns, a fourth-generation family farmer in central Nebraska, started making cover-crop seed mixtures in 2010, and the business “just kind of took off,” Mr. Berns said.
He and his brother, Brian, turned what started as a hobby into a thriving enterprise. This year, Green Cover Seed, their company, will sell enough seed to cover 500,000 acres in cover crops.
Last fall, the Berns brothers were recognized as White House Champions of Change for Sustainable and Climate-Smart Agriculture. “We have been kind of surprised at how fast our business has grown,” Keith said. “The reason is that because it’s working agronomically and doing what it’s advertised to do.”
Modern farming practices like applying fertilizer and herbicides have helped farmers increase yields and reduced labor, but they have also unintentionally interfered with root systems and disrupted underground microbial activity and insect life that are vital to plant and soil health. (Many farmers deploying cover crops continue to use herbicides, although often less than they did in the past, but they often can do without fertilizers.)
“We’ve concentrated on the physical and chemical aspects of farming but not the biological,” said Dan DeSutter, who farms 5,000 acres near Attica, Ind.
Mr. DeSutter began fooling around with cover crops about 17 years ago, after Purdue University used one of his fields for research trials. One spring he was repairing a drainage tile in the test field and came across the deep, webbed root system that some Oregon ryegrass had put into the soil.
“I thought to myself, I have been pulling the guts out of my tractor to remove compaction 14 inches deep with a ripper,” Mr. DeSutter said, “and this plant has just bored a system of micropores four feet deep between cash crops all on its own.”
The roots he stumbled across had created a natural aeration system that helped conserve water and trap nutrients in the soil, which would otherwise be prone to leaching. “That was the aha! moment,” he said.
Today, all 5,000 acres he farms are sown after the harvest of corn and soy with a mixture of as many as 12 different crops, including sunflower, sorghum, buckwheat, turnips and hairy vetch, each of which delivers a different benefit. Most die off in the winter and decompose, leaving behind a rich layer of organic matter that gradually sinks into the earth. Farmers use a planter or seed drill to punch the seeds for their cash crops into the decaying cover crop.
Before cultivation, Indiana was blanketed in prairie grasses and forest, and the carbon content of the soil was as high as 10 percent in places. Today, after decades of tillage, which moves carbon from the soil into the atmosphere, and monocropping, the level on many farms is below 2 percent, Mr. Fisher said. Cover crops restore organic matter back into the soil, at a rate of about 1 percent every five years.
“As we put carbon back into the soil, it gives us a bigger tank to store water naturally,” Mr. DeSutter said. “This is one way we build resilience into the system.”
The adoption of cover cropping has been especially rapid in Indiana — about one million of the 12.5 million acres of farmland there are planted with cover crops between harvests. A strong collaboration between Purdue University and state and federal farm services gave birth to the Indiana Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative, a program that offers education and research to farmers in the state.
Rob Myers, director of extension programs for the north central region of SARE, and a professor at the University of Missouri, said Maryland also ranked high in the use of cover crops. The state reimburses farmers for the cost of cover crop seed and has been informing them about the impact that fertilizer runoff has on Chesapeake Bay.
Despite the support for cover cropping in Indiana, there is still resistance to change. Farmers are notoriously reluctant to offer their neighbors advice about farming, and cover cropping carries with it an implicit criticism of practices — reliance on fertilizers and pesticides, and so forth — that farmers for the last generation have used to increase productivity and reduce work.
“All those old guys sitting around shooting the breeze at the feed store get real quiet when I pull up,” Mr. DeSutter said, only half in jest.
Neighbors have made pointed comments about his “messy” fields. The fields sown with a cover crop cocktail are often blanketed in dying, decaying and thriving plants at the same time. In December, spindly black stalks, the remnants of sunflowers, shot up here and there from one of Mr. DeSutter’s fields, which were covered in a yellowing broadleaf and bright green hairy vetch.
But the biggest obstacle to more farmers adopting cover crops is the lack of data and research on their benefits. “Fewer of our neighbors think we’re crazy than when we started planting cover crops, but there’s still a lot of skepticism out there,” said Rodney Rulon, whose family farms 6,200 acres in northeastern Indiana and plants about four-fifths of them with cover crops.
Rulon Enterprises, the family business, has begun collecting data on some of its fields. He has found, for instance, an increase in organic matter and higher corn yields — an average of 12.8 bushels an acre more in one of his cover-cropped fields, said Mr. Rulon, who shared some of this data in December at the 70th Corn & Sorghum Seed Research Conference.
“You really start seeing a difference in your soil within two or three years,” Mr. Rulon said.
The Rulons spend about $100,000 a year on cover crop seed, or about $26 an acre. But they also saved about $57,000 on fertilizer they no longer needed, and bigger yields mean about $107,000 in extra income.
Including the value of improved soil quality, less erosion and other improvements, Mr. Rulon estimates that Rulon Enterprises gets about $244,000 of net economic benefit from cover crops annually, or a little more than $69 an acre.
The federal government is mulling ways to persuade farmers to adopt cover cropping. There is a small subsidy system; Rulon Enterprises, for instance, gets $40,000 to help offset the cost of cover crops and support other conservation practices.
But Mr. Rulon and Mr. DeSutter believe that landowners are the real key to taking cover crops mainstream. Most farmers work some fields leased from absentee owners, and thus have less incentive to maintain and invest in improving soil quality on that land.
“Why should landowners see the value of their land diminished because the soil on it has become unhealthy?” said Mr. DeSutter. “I’d like to see landowners give preferential treatment to farmers who are working to improve the value of the land they lease by using cover crops.”
Correction: February 14, 2016
An article last Sunday about the resurgence of cover-cropping as an agricultural practice described incorrectly the effects of so-called no-till farming, in which farmers plant into the residue of a previous crop rather than tilling it in. It can reduce soil erosion; it does not increase it.
Stuart Cooper Flouride Action Network October 7, 2015
The company that gets rid of highly toxic wastes by selling them as a “product” to municipal water departments across the country as cheap fluoridation chemicals has been fined $2 billion for gross violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), reports the Fluoride Action Network (FAN).
Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC, is one of the largest sellers of a toxic fluoride chemical, “fluorosilicic acid”, that cities add to public drinking water. Fluorosilicic acid is described by EPA in the Consent Decrees as a “hazardous waste” produced at Mosaic’s fertilizer plants. More than 200 million Americans drink these wastes every day.
For decades Mosaic has been selling fluoridation chemicals to public drinking water systems across the U.S. This Kafkaesque scheme, approved by EPA, benefits the polluter in the belief that it helps the teeth of the poor, according to FAN.
The fine was levied on October 1st by the EPA and U.S. Department of Justice. These wastes are produced at Mosaic’s six phosphate fertilizer plants in Florida and two in Louisiana.
“It’s outrageous that Mosaic is allowed to sell an EPA ‘hazardous waste’ to dump into the drinking water used in most major U.S. cities,” says FAN scientist Dr. Neil Carman.
Dr. William Hirzy, also with FAN, added, “This loophole needs to be closed by the EPA. It was not addressed in the Consent Decrees which allow Mosaic to continue selling a hazardous waste to the public disguised as a way to boost fluoride in drinking water.”
The RCRA laws govern the storage, treatment and disposal of hazardous waste. Mosaic’s 60 billion pounds of improperly handled hazardous waste cited by EPA is the largest amount ever covered by a RCRA settlement. Mosaic’s wastes have also caused huge local environmental problems, due largely to their high fluoride levels. The fluoride, not captured in pollution control devices and sold for water fluoridation, ends up in their liquid and solid wastes. Other toxic constituents include arsenic, lead, cadmium, uranium and radium. Enormous quantities of these wastes have been stored for years in so-called gypsum stacks. They will never become non-toxic, and these open hazardous waste piles have regularly leaked into rivers and groundwater causing huge fish kills and other problems.
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For an overview of the phosphate fertilizer industry see http://fluoridealert.org/articles/phosphat
After mining, it will be the county that tries to figure out what in the heck they will do with their thousands of acres of mined lands. Health studies would be required to assess the toxicity and possible radiation threats left behind by the upheaval of formerly native systems. Is this what Hardee, Desoto and Manatee county can look forward to?
[ 250,000 ACRES IN SOUTHWEST POLK ]
What’s Next for Bone Valley? Planners Try to Flesh Out Future For Former Mining Land
Thousands of undeveloped acres, such as this land south of Mulberry, are one of the focuses of the Bone Valley study.
TOM PALMER | THE LEDGER
By Tom Palmer
Published: Thursday, July 23, 2015 at 1:32 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 23, 2015 at 1:32 a.m.
BARTOW | Thousands of acres of real estate in southwest Polk County dominated by phosphate mining for more than a century are nearly ready for their next act.
But efforts by county planners to guide future development decisions for the 250,000 acres, about one-fifth of the county, have stalled for the past three years.
The reasons range from staff turnover to the difficulty in coming up with the right approach to set up a vision for an area this vast.
If all goes as planned, the effort is scheduled to resume by year’s end and eventually will land on the County Commission’s desk for review.
“This is very important; we need to be on the forefront of this,” said County Commissioner Melony Bell, whose district includes the area between the boundaries of Bartow, Fort Meade and Mulberry that’s the focus of what is called the Bone Valley Special Area Study, which was launched in 2009.
The area earned the name Bone Valley because of the large amount of fossils of creatures such as mammoths, camels, horses, turtles and dugongs unearthed during mining.
Bell said what Polk County does there could become a model for other counties such as Hardee and DeSoto where mining is still occurring or just getting underway.
Chanda Bennett, the most recent county planner assigned to the project, said this is a way to include principles in the county’s growth plan that will lay out issues to consider for future development requests in the area.
She said this is more practical than attempting, as county planners have done in smaller study areas, to assign future land-use categories.
The effort is complicated by the area containing a mix of areas whose future uses will probably be industrial and areas where there are more options.
“Streamsong demonstrated there are potential uses other than industrial,” Bennett said, referring to the upscale resort Mosaic developed in a relatively remote area near the Polk-Hardee line.
She said the only limiting factor in future development plans is adequate infrastructure, primarily water and sewer service and roads.
Bennett said another goal of the study is to protect existing residential communities, such as Bradley, from undesirable uses.
NOT FIRST STUDY
The Bone Valley SAS isn’t the first time planners have attempted to figure out what the post-mining future of southwest Polk County should look like.
In 1990, the Central Florida Regional Planning Council met with mining company officials and other interest groups to try to understand the issues ahead for mined land.
The phosphate industry had maintained for decades that its mining operations were only a temporary use.
That raised the question of what would be the subsequent uses for the land. That study, which occurred only 15 years after state law required phosphate companies to reclaim mined land, made no recommendations.
Instead, it was the first attempt by local planners to persuade phosphate company officials to begin thinking about what their land could be used for after mining and reclamation were completed.
In the meantime, Bone Valley was sometimes seen as a “sacrifice zone,” a place where activities ranging from power plants to hazardous waste incinerators opposed in other parts of the state could find a home.
The next attempt to look at the area’s future came in 1999 in an effort launched by Polk County’s planning staff.
However, that study hit a dead end after phosphate company representatives declined to participate, arguing they weren’t ready to discuss the issue.
Since that time, the consolidation of the phosphate industry and the sales of land formerly owned by mining companies have resulted in a situation where a handful of landowners now own most of the land.
The largest landowner is fertilizer giant Mosaic.
Its spokeswoman, Callie Neslund, said the company is interested in working with Polk County.
“Going forward, Mosaic will look at all of our landholdings within the Bone Valley SAS from both an environmental and economic perspective,” she said in an email.
“As we conduct a bit of our own planning, we will work closely with the county to ensure future uses are compatible with the surrounding communities and comprehensive vision for the future of Polk County and existing assets throughout the area are leveraged,” she said.
Another major landowner is the Lakeland-based T Mims Corp. headed by businessman Tom Mims.
Mims, who participated in the study, said the idea was too ambitious and impractical.
“The problem with the study is that it takes a blanket approach to future development,” he said. “No one can predict what’s going to happen there.”
He said Streamsong Resort, which was announced and built while the study was underway, is a good example of that.
“No one saw that coming.”
Mims said these plans are inherently political, explaining people who participate in the process will benefit and people who don’t could end up with future land use designations that put them at a disadvantage for developing their property.
The land around Streamsong may be an example of this.
The resort’s development prompted county planners to develop the Brewster Special Area Plan that imposed some restrictions on land uses in this 16,000-acre portion of the study area.
The purpose was to prevent incompatible land uses from affecting it, Bennett said.
Potential developers and major landowners aren’t the only ones watching the progress of the Bone Valley study.
Sierra Club member John Ryan said environmentalists’ main focus is on preserving river and creek corridors that were part of reclamation plans to make sure future development doesn’t interfere with those corridors’ ability to allow water and wildlife to move.
Bone Valley contains tributaries of the Peace, Alafia and Little Manatee rivers, all of which have been affected in some way by mining activities.
Mosaic has announced plans to restore some of the streams and to improve wildlife habitat as part of its reclamation plans.
The concern is what happens after Mosaic, or any other company required to complete reclamation projects, finishes, sells the land and moves on.
“Right now, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen after reclamation,” Ryan said.
[ Tom Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7535. Follow on Twitter @LedgerTom. ]