Here is some sound advice from a post in News-Press that will put some in denial because it is not what they want to hear. Probably all scientists agree with this article, but politics obstructs following its advice. We apply temporary ineffective efforts to treat the symptoms and ignore the cure. The result is what you see today in South Florida — a situation that is not acceptable nor sustainable.
This is a start. We need to see this message over and over again and we need to seriously work to solve this problem. We need to take all the money we now waste on treating symptoms and put it to helping farmers make a transition to drastically reducing fertilizer use.
Instead our leaders point toward Washington, blame Obama, blame the Army Corps, and blame evil aliens from outer space. They blame everybody but themselves instead of seriously working on a cure.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Stop water pollution by radically reducing fertilizer usage
While necessary as a stopgap measure because of today’s algae crisis, current efforts at simply cleaning up the mess are not a feasible long-term solution to the Okeechobee basin water quality crisis.
Arguably building increased storage capability for polluted waters, enabling longer release periods, and treating polluted waters through biological filtering are a very expensive procrastination of politically difficult but needed change.
The reality is that if the State of Florida refuses to seriously regulate agricultural and residential fertilizer usage, the problems of the whole Okeechobee basin will not be solved.
The Okeechobee basin’s soils are recognized as sandy soils that are easily depleted of nutrients and can freely leech applied nutrient replacements, chemical fertilizers. Degradation of soil quality for agriculture is typically addressed through fertilization.
Crop rotation and “resting” agricultural fields is not standard practice in Florida.
Assuming that crop yields per acre must be either increased or sustained, big-ag’s solution to nutrient depletion is fertilizer usage.
If soils degrade, fertilizer usage is increased. Among many sources, one academic paper published in February 2016 demonstrates this practice. The UF/IFAS Extension published revised “Fertilizer Recommendations for Sugarcane Production for Sugar on Florida Sand Soils.”
It noted that recommendations for nitrogen application rates in 1974 were an “N rate” of 150-pounds N/acre. In 1994 the recommendation was increased to 180 lb N/acre. In the February 2016 paper this increased to between 200 and 220 lb N/acre.
It is remarkable that this 30% plus recommended increase in fertilizer usage for sugar production has occurred in a time period when more efficient application methodologies have been brought to the market. Soil degradation continues.
Florida’s tonnage usage of fertilizer currently exceeds that of both Texas and California. Texas is over four times our size and California is just shy of 2½. This can be expected when we layer intense agricultural usage on a degrading nutrient platform.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services stopped tracking fertilizer usage data in 2012. Latest data shows 82% of fertilizer usage in Florida was in agriculture.
Although they are responsible for less than 1/5th of applied fertilizers, non-agricultural fertilizer users must also be recognized as part of the problem. The first regulation in Florida of urban fertilization was by municipal ordinance in 2000, less than 20 years ago.
In 2008, Florida published its “Model Ordinance for Florida-Friendly Fertilizer Use on Urban Landscapes”. This is employed through a series of locally adopted patchwork municipal and county ordinances. Less than a quarter of Florida’s counties have fertilizer usage regulations. No statewide requirements exist.
If we are to solve our water quality issues, Florida needs the political gumption and voter support to:
- Take on big-Ag in its never-ending quest to maximize crop yields in a declining landscape while denying responsibility for the collateral damage. This must include a dramatic, sustained and enforced program of continuously reducing fertilizer usage per acre.
- Communicate to the non-agricultural community that over-fertilization is a serious problem and must be eliminated through tough, enforced regulations that severely limit the use of fertilizers.
While current efforts at dealing with the effluent problems caused by fertilizer usage in Florida are laudable, and maybe even politically correct, the real solution lies in recognizing that the influent is the real problem. We are using Okeechobee as a pollutant holding tank. Solutions on the table to date may postpone total collapse of the ecosystem but will not prevent it.
A key to long term solution is to stop the pollution by radically reducing the use of fertilizers.
Steve Shimp, a resident of Lee County since 1982, is a retired contractor with degrees in both biology and civil engineering. He is a former The News Press editorial board citizen member.