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 Cover crops had long been replaced by fertilizers.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.
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. ]
Phosphate giant Mosaic agrees to pay nearly $2 billion over mishandling of hazardous waste
· Craig Pittman, Tampa Bay Times Staff Writer
Thursday, October 1, 2015 12:53pm
Mosaic Fertilizer, the world’s largest phosphate mining company, has agreed to pay nearly $2 billion to settle a federal lawsuit over hazardous waste and to clean up its operations at six Florida sites and two in Louisiana, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.
“The 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste addressed in this case is the largest amount ever covered by a federal or state … settlement and will ensure that wastewater at Mosaic’s facilities is properly managed and does not pose a threat to groundwater resources,” the EPA said.
The EPA had accused Mosaic of improper storage and disposal of waste from the production of phosphoric and sulfuric acids, key components of fertilizers, at Mosaic’s facilities in Bartow, New Wales, Mulberry, Riverview, South Pierce and Green Bay in Florida, as well as two sites in Louisiana.
The EPA said it had discovered Mosaic employees were mixing highly-corrosive substances from its fertilizer operations with the solid waste and wastewater from mineral processing, in violation of federal and state hazardous waste laws.
“This case is a major victory for clean water, public health and communities across Florida and Louisiana,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
Mosaic CEO Joc O’Rourke said the company is “pleased to be bringing this matter to a close” and pledging to be a good environmental steward. The Minnesota-based company was formed in 2004 by a merger of IMC Global with the crop nutrition division of Cargill.
Mosaic officials in Florida said the EPA investigation and negotiations for a settlement have been going on for eight years, and what they were doing was something everyone in the phosphate industry was doing as well.
The settlement with the EPA, the Justice Department, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will have no impact on Mosaic’s continued employment or on its future mining expansion plans in DeSoto, Hardee and Manatee counties, they said.
First discovered by an Army Corps of Engineers captain in 1881, Florida’s phosphate deposits today form the basis of an $85-billion industry that supplies three-fourths of the phosphate used in the United States. Although phosphate mining provides a major financial boon to the small communities in which the mines are located, it also leaves behind a major environmental mess.
The miners use a dragline with a bucket the size of a truck to scoop up the top 30 feet of earth and dump it to the side of the mine. Then the dragline scoops out the underlying section of earth, which contains phosphate rocks mixed with clay and sand.
The bucket dumps this in a pit where high-pressure water guns create a slurry that can then be pumped to a plant up to 10 miles away.
At the plant, the phosphate is separated from the sand and clay. The clay slurry is pumped to a settling pond, and the phosphate is sent to a chemical processing plant where it is processed for use in fertilizer and other products. The sand is sent back to the mine site to fill in the hole after all the phosphate is dug out.
A byproduct, called phosphogypsum, is slightly radioactive so it cannot be disposed of easily. The only thing the miners can do with it is stack it into mountainous piles next to the plant. Florida is such a flat state that the 150-foot-tall “gyp stacks” are usually the highest point in the landscape for miles around. They contain large pools of highly acidic wastewater on top, too.
“Mining and mineral processing facilities generate more toxic and hazardous waste than any other industrial sector,” Giles said. “Reducing environmental impacts from large fertilizer manufacturers operations is a national priority for EPA.”
Mosaic’s production of pollution is so great that in 2012, the Southwest Florida Water Management District granted the company a permit to pump up to 70 million gallons of water a day out of the ground for the next 20 years. Mosaic is using some of that water to dilute the pollution it dumps into area creeks and streams so it won’t violate state regulations.
The EPA investigation was prompted by a 2003 incident in which the Piney Point phosphate plant, near the southern end of the Sunshine Skyway, leaked some of waste from atop its gyp stack into the edge of Tampa Bay after its owners walked away.
That prompted EPA to launch a national review of phosphate mining facilities, said EPA spokeswoman Julia Valentine. That’s how inspectors found workers were mixing the corrosive substances from the fertilizer operations with the phosphogypsum and wastewater from the mineral processing, she said.
That mixing was something everyone in the industry did, according to Richard Ghent of Mosaic’s Florida operations. The EPA said that violated both state and federal law and put groundwater at risk. It has previously gotten settlements from two other companies, one of which, CF Industries, has since been taken over by Mosaic.
Despite the mishandling of the waste, Debra Waters, Mosaic’s director of environmental regulatory affairs in Florida, said the company has seen no change in the area’s groundwater as a result, which EPA officials said was correct.
The fact that the negotiations have been going on for so many years, she said, “should indicate that there’s no imminent threat.”
The company will invest at least $170 million at its fertilizer manufacturing facilities to keep those substances separate from now on. Mosaic will also put money aside for the safe future closure of the gypsum stacks using a $630 million trust fund it is creating under the settlement. That money will be invested until it reaches $1.8 billion, which will pay for the closures.
The South Pierce and Green Bay plants, both in Polk County, are already in the process of shutting down, with the closure of the gyp stacks already underway, Waters said.
Mosaic will also pay a $5 million civil penalty to the federal government, a $1.55 million penalty to the State of Louisiana and $1.45 million to Florida, and it will be required to spend $2.2 million on local environmental projects to make up for what it has done.
Mosaic, which runs television ads touting its importance in growing crops to feed the world, has previously run afoul of the EPA on its air pollution standards. However, last year company was rated one of the top 50 employers in America based on salary and job satisfaction. Mosaic employs about 1,200 people in Hillsborough County alone.
Mosaic’s “Bone Valley” in the Peace River Heartland
For the first time in history the entire Central Florida Phosphate Mining District is owned by one single company: Mosaic. They recently acquired CF Industries and their associated Ft Green/Hardee County mining and beneficiation operations – the South Pasture Mine Extension. Mosaic is presently seeking permits for an additional 52,000 acres of phosphate strip mining in Manatee, Hardee and DeSoto Counties.
These mines are the South Pasture Extension (7500 acres), Wingate East (3600), Ona (22,300) and DeSoto (18,300). The US Army Corps of Engineers Area-wide Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS) was meant to assess the direct and indirect as well as past, present and future consequences of so much phosphate strip mining. 3PR deemed the Final AEIS to be highly inadequate, inaccurate, antiquated and in many instances misleading with a pro-industry bias. Simultaneous with the initiation of the AEIS process Mosaic issued notices seeking US Army Corp Engineers 404 (Dredge and Fill Permits) for the four mines mentioned above.
If the permits are approved Mosaic will have carte blanche to pursue the same kind of environmentally disastrous surface mining operations that have blighted the eco-systems and watersheds of west central Florida for generations.
Federal and state environmental officials are negotiating in hopes of reaching a settlement with Mosaic, among the world’s largest fertilizer companies, over whether it “mishandled hazardous waste” at some of its Florida facilities.
The issue could ultimately cost the company hundreds-of-millions of dollars in facility upgrades and trust fund payments, in addition to a possible penalty of more than $1 million, according to state records and regulatory filings.
It’s part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s crackdown on hazardous waste created by the mineral processing industry.
“The negotiations involving Mosaic are complex and ongoing,” said company spokesman Richard Ghent. “We are negotiating in good faith and we look forward to a successful resolution of the matter.”
Phosphate Ore is the mineral that companies mine and process when producing fertilizer. The toxic byproduct created by the process is stored in up to 200-foot tall piles known as “gypstacks,” which are called “mountains off hazardous waste” by some environmental groups.
“They can sometimes overflow and spill their toxic waste after strong storms or prolonged rain events,” the Sierra Club Florida wrote in a brochure about gypstacks.
The first settlement related to the EPA’s efforts was in 2010 between C.F. Industries, which operated a Plant City fertilizer plant, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Under the settlement, the company agreed to spend $12 million to reduce the release of hazardous waste, and pay a $700,000 fine. In 2013, Mosaic spent $1.2 billion to buy CF Industry’s Central Florida-based phosphate business, which produce 1.8 million tons of phosphate fertilizer annually.
My “Letter to the Editor” (below) was published in the Bradenton Herald Tribune on December 9th. I submitted it simultaneously to the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Tampa Bay Times, but am unaware that it was published by them since I was out of state at the time….
To hold Selby Gardens accountable for disavowing their stated mission and to inform their leadership of the environmental destruction caused by phosphate strip mining I have also been trying to arrange a meeting with the CEO of Selby Gardens, Mr. Thomas Buchter. He sent me the following short reply:
Dennis, when you are ready to get all nonprofits in the region that have received a grant from Mosaic Co. to support their mission then I will look forward to meeting with you (sic).
Selby Gardens Consorts with Phosphate Industry
It is disillusioning, to say the least, to learn that an historic icon of Sarasota, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, accepts financial assistance from the phosphate strip mining company, Mosaic. The Mosaic logo was prominently displayed on the home page of Selby Gardens during the month of October in a $50,000 matching funds agreement for a children’s rainforest exhibit.
Mosaic is more than happy to have its name associated with organizations like Selby Gardens to boost its image as a “friend of the environment,” the thrust of its pervasive public relations campaign conveyed through television ads, public radio sponsorships, billboards, newspaper ads and direct mailings.
How can we forget that the phosphate industry has been ravaging eco-systems and wildlife habitat throughout west central Florida for generations in their quest for ore to manufacture fertilizer products sold on the global market? Phosphate strip mining burdens ground water resources, destroys wetlands and streams, creates thousands of acres of clay waste and toxic chemical disposal sites and permanently altars native soil conditions. Their attempts at “reclamation” have never replicated the fragile native environment that they systematically destroy to enhance their profits.
More specifically phosphate strip mining permanently eradicates the ecological conditions upon which native epiphytes or orchids depend for survival, yet in their mission statement Selby Gardens, which prides itself as being a ” world leader in conservation and display of epiphytes” states that they are committed “… to understand and conserve epiphytes and their natural habitats in a rapidly changing world.”
The phosphate strip mining industry is currently seeking permits to mine an additional 50,000 acres of native Florida prairies, woods and wetlands in Manatee, Hardee and DeSoto Counties. How many more native epiphytes will be permanently lost if these permits are allowed?
It seems to me that Selby Gardens should keep their word to preserve and protect native epiphyte habitats in west central Florida, and not consort with the very industry that is the perpetrator of their demise.
People for Protecting Peace River
4224 Solomon Road
Ona, FL 33865
It’s a quandary of food production: The same drive for efficiency that lowers the cost of eating also can damage our soil and water.
Take the case of one simple, essential chemical element: phosphorus.
Phosphorus is one of the nutrients that plants need to grow, and for most of human history, farmers always needed more of it. “There was this battle to have enough available phosphorus for optimum crop production,” says , a scientist with the University of Maryland’s Wye Research and Education Center, which sits between farm fields and the Chesapeake Bay on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
That’s also the tension in this story: agriculture on one side, and water quality on the other.
Traditionally, farmers got phosphorus from animal manure. So if you grew crops like corn or wheat, it was good to have poultry or hogs nearby. Your grain fed the animals, and their manure fed your crops. Everything worked together.
Then came industrial fertilizer: big phosphorus mines; factories for making the other important nutrient, nitrogen; and railroads or highways to carry that fertilizer to any farmer who needed it.
“With the development of the inorganic fertilizer industry, it’s possible to grow grain without having animals nearby. So you can decouple the animal agriculture from the grain agriculture,” Staver says.
And decouple they did. Farmers concentrated on just one kind of production. So did entire . Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama, for instance, now produce the largest number of chickens — more than a billion of them every year. But they don’t grow much chicken feed. They haul in grain from far away.
As that grain flows from fields to chicken houses, or hog farms, so do the nutrients in it, such as phosphorus and nitrogen.
Some of it goes into meat that people eat, but a lot goes into animal waste.
This is where the problem starts. Farmers near those chicken houses or hog farms often take lots of that manure and spread it on their fields, partly just to get rid of it and partly for its value as fertilizer. Crops, however, need much more nitrogen than phosphorus. When farmers use manure to give their crops an optimal amount of nitrogen, they oversupply phosphorus.
“This is happening everywhere,” Staver says. “Where you have large concentrations of animal production, you tend to have a buildup of nutrients — phosphorus is the one that accumulates — in soils around concentrated animal-producing regions.”
Wherever it accumulates, rain washes it into streams, lakes and estuaries, where it’s an ecological disaster.
“It drives algae growth, so it ends up clouding the water. You don’t get the light penetration to support the rooted aquatic plants that are important in the food chain,” Staver says. “You also get these algae blooms, and when they die, they draw oxygen from the water. You get dead zones.”
In many places, environmental regulators are trying to stop this buildup of phosphorus.
Until recently, it Maryland was taking the lead. The state has a big poultry industry right beside the Chesapeake Bay, which has been choked with nutrient pollution.
Last year, Maryland proposed new rules that would have stopped farmers from putting more phosphorus on any fields that already have too much of it. It required soil tests to determine a key phosphorus index number.
Lee Richardson, a farmer in Willards, Md., was worried. “The word we were getting — if [your fields] were over 150, you weren’t going to spread manure,” he says. Most of his fields are over that level.
The manure ban would have hit him two different ways.
First, he grows chickens; if their manure couldn’t go on his fields, it would have to go somewhere else. “Chances are, growers were going to have to pay to get it hauled away and taken out of the chicken house,” he says.
Second, his corn fields still need nitrogen. Without manure as a nitrogen source, he’d have to buy the manufactured kind of fertilizer, which is more expensive.
Richardson and other farmers protested, arguing that the new rules would inflict huge economic harm, while the environmental benefits are uncertain.
In November, the state of Maryland . It promised to study the issue some more. Kenneth Staver, from the University of Maryland, says it’s not that hard to imagine a solution to the problem.
“The obvious one is, find a way to redistribute the phosphorus from the animal production facilities back to where the crop production is,” he says. The manure would have to travel to the vast fields that farmers currently fertilize with fresh, mined phosphorus.
Hauling manure such distances would cost money. Staver says it’s the price of cleaner, healthier water.
If farmers have to pay that cost, growing chickens or hogs will get more expensive.
Then we, the consumers, would pay for it, through more expensive meat.