University of FloridaSolutions for Your Life

Download PDF
Publication #ENH1277

Florida Fertilizer Usage Statistics1

T. W. Shaddox and J. B. Unruh2

The combination of Florida’s diverse climate, agricultural production, and proximity to sensitive environmental habitats is unique to the southeastern United States. Nutrient applications are often required to meet the demand for agricultural and horticultural commodities. Because much of Florida is a peninsula, nutrient applications often occur in close proximity to water bodies and watersheds that feed ground water. In order for scientists, policy makers, and citizens to make informed decisions regarding nutrient issues in Florida, it is important to first understand which markets contribute to Florida’s fertilizer consumption.

While the quantity of fertilizer consumed in Florida exceeds other states (except California, Illinois, and Texas) (EPA 2017), it is important to acknowledge several features unique to Florida. First, many crops grow year-round and, therefore, many farmers are able to achieve three crop rotations each year. Second, horticultural plants such as turfgrass, palms, woody ornamentals, and annual flowers also grow year-round and only exhibit slight decreases in growth during winter. Lastly, most Florida soils are primarily composed of sand, which has low nutrient retention compared to other high production agricultural soils, such as mollisols. For these reasons, it makes sense that nutrient applications in Florida would be greater than many other states.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) documents nutrient usage. According to the Florida commercial fertilizer law (Florida Statutes 576), all fertilizer companies must report fertilizer tonnage to the FDACS monthly (FDACS 2017). These data are collected and categorized as ‘farm’ or ‘non-farm’ market sectors. The farm sector is comprised of citrus growers, cattle ranchers, vegetable growers, etc. The non-farm sector includes nurseries, golf courses, home lawns, and gardens. After 2012, FDACS stopped receiving categorized nutrient data. Therefore, the most current nutrient use data is from 2012. Farm use was responsible for more than 82% of nitrogen (N), phosphate (P), and potash (K) consumption (Table 1 and Figure 1). Turfgrass (lawns + golf and athletic) consumed 11%, 8%, and 14% of N, P, and K, respectively; whereas, garden and nursery/potting soil constituted less than 6% of N, P, and K consumed in 2012.

Figure 1. 

Percentage of total nitrogen, phosphate, and potash use by Florida market sector from July 2011 to June 2012 (FDACS 2017).


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

According to section 502(14) of the Clean Water Act, nonpoint source pollution is defined as any source of pollution that does not meet the legal definition of ‘point source’. Point source pollution is defined as any discernible, confined, and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, container, rolling stock, concentrated animal feeding operation, or vessel or other floating craft, from which pollutants are or may be discharged. Therefore, nutrient applications to soils and plants are not point sources of pollution, but may contribute to nonpoint source pollution. It is erroneous to assume that the difference in nutrient consumption between market sectors correlates with a particular market sector’s contribution to potential non-point source pollution. Clear evidence identifying the N and P contributions to water bodies by market sector does not exist. Additionally, each market sector uses different percentages of soluble and slow-release materials, which differ in their ability to reduce nutrient losses to water bodies (Telenko et al. 2015). Evidence indicates that slow-release fertilizers greatly reduce the risk of non-point source pollution (Petrovic 1990), and, therefore, market sectors that utilize larger percentages of slow-release materials are likely to have less impact on non-point source pollution than markets utilizing soluble nutrient sources. However, until properly designed studies are completed, conclusions upon the market sector that contributes to N and/or P in Florida’s water bodies cannot be made.

Summary

Florida’s nutrient consumption reports serve as a foundation from which rational decisions can be discussed. Understanding nutrient consumption within the context of Florida’s unique environment will help decision makers create more evidence-based solutions to Florida’s current and future issues.

References

Environmental Protection Agency. 2017. Commercial fertilizer purchased. https://www.epa.gov/nutrient-policy-data/commercial-fertilizer-purchased (accessed March 21, 2017).

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 2017. Archive fertilizer tonnage data. http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Agricultural-Environmental-Services/Business-Services/Fertilizer/Fertilizer-Manufacturers/Fertilizer-Tonnage-Data/Archive-Fertilizer-Tonnage-Data (accessed March 13, 2017).

Petrovic, A.M. 1990. "The fate of nitrogenous fertilizers applied to turfgrass." J. Environ. Qual. 19: 1–14.

Telenko, D.E.P., T.W. Shaddox, J.B. Unruh and L.E. Trenholm. 2015. "Nitrate leaching, turf quality, and growth rate of 'Floratam' St. Augustinegrass and common centipedegrass." Crop Sci. 55: 1320–1328.

Tables

Table 1. 

Tons of fertilizer used in Florida by market sector from July 2011 to June 2012 (FDACS 2017).

 

Lawn

Golf and Athletic

Garden

Nursery

Potting Soil

Non-Farm Total

Farm Total

Multi-Nutrient

Nitrogen

9118

5624

5733

2055

402

22933

93665

Phosphate

1310

2203

1065

882

171

5633

39743

Potash

4086

4589

4159

1612

269

14717

130676

Single-Nutrient

Nitrogen

286

1361

439

451

164

2703

33690

Phosphate

15

1

2

3

13

36

358

Potash

14866

539

444

197

122

16170

13267

Organic

Nitrogen

164

22

102

2

0

694

1521

Phosphate

158

8

99

1

0

267

529

Potash

79

8

95

1

0

184

246

Total

Nitrogen

9,568

7,007

6,274

2,508

566

26,330

128,876

Phosphate

1,483

2,212

1,166

886

184

5,936

40,630

Potash

19,031

5,136

4,698

1,810

391

31,071

144,189

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH1277, one of a series of the Department of Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date April 2017. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

T. W. Shaddox, assistant professor, UF/IFAS Ft. Lauderdale Research and Education Center, Davie, FL 33314-7719; and J.B. Unruh, professor, UF/IFAS West Florida REC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.