J. Scott Angle: Dedicated to Supporting Informed Decision-Making

June 29, 2023

At UF/IFAS, we’re dedicated to supporting informed decision making.

The Legislature is not asking UF/IFAS whether a ban on fertilizers at certain times of year, or a ban on bans, are good ideas. The policy makers are asking us what the science says so they can decide.

That’s not always a simple question. Before we take a deep dive on a topic of scientific interest, we start by looking at what we already know—or at least what work has been previously done. In academia we call it a literature review.

UF/IFAS provides information backed by science to residents, property owners, environmental advocates, industry, and state and local governments so that everyone has access to the most current research and can make solid decisions.

So the assignment from the state to evaluate current studies to assess the effectiveness of the timing of seasonal fertilizer restrictions on urban landscapes is right in line with our mission. It’s an important step in doing research on controversial topics, such as fertilizer ordinances. Recently passed state legislation includes $250,000 for us to do the evaluation.

It gives us until the end of the year to produce a report. We can’t know ahead of time what this report will say, but we anticipate it will point to the need for further study to understand the relationship between nutrient losses and the use of fertilizer in urban areas.

That’s because existing studies on the effect of fertilizer leaving landscapes during the rainy season or otherwise are lacking. A study by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection indicates that applying fertilizer during the growing season to healthy turf did not result in excessive leaching. Applying fertilizer during the non-growing season resulted in leaching. Runoff was not measured.

There are more nuances explained in this UF/IFAS EDIS document.

Our end-of-the-year report is unlikely to produce a single clear conclusion. After all, there are many different kinds of plants, soil, weather, irrigation schedules and other variables across the state that can influence the results from rules that dictate when homeowners can feed their lawns.

There’s been some confusion about what the state is asking UF/IFAS to do, because there are two projects and they are very different. One is to update nutrient rates recommendations—how much fertilizer you apply to an agricultural crop—to maximize yield while minimizing excess fertilizer loss to the environment.

Two years ago, in response to massive concern from farmers across the state, we began a statewide program to study nutrient rates in many crops: tomatoes, potatoes, beans, citrus and all kinds of other food crops. Turf sod production got added to the mix in the past year, but it is a small part of the overall program.

The nutrient rate study is a much bigger job than the literature review for effectiveness of fertilizer bans, and the state is investing a lot more in us to do it--$6 million.

This is among the most important research being done to protect Florida’s water quality while keeping farmers in business, produce in our markets, and lawns and landscapes thriving.

The public policy question of fertilizer ban effectiveness is important, so I’m encouraged that the legislature wants more facts before making more decisions, and I hope county governments, FNGLA members and everyone who has a lawn will appreciate better information, too.

J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

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