FloridaTrend.com, the Website for Florida Business


Chemical Fertilizers: A Growing Problem

In a quest to clean up its waters, Sarasota County has outlawed the use of chemical fertilizers by residents and businesses between June 1 and Sept. 30. The ordinance also sets maximum limits for nitrogen and phosphorus that fertilizers can contain, establishes “fertilizer-free” zones within 10 feet of any body of water and requires landscapers and pest control specialists to be trained and certified.


TruGreen’s Erica Santella says her industry believes the Sarasota ordinance is too narrowly focused.
[Photo: Gregg Matthews]

The county’s new rules — a response to an explosion of red tide recently — follow similar moves by Sanibel, St. Johns County and the town of Wellington. Charlotte, Manatee and Hillsborough counties are also considering taking action, as is Jacksonville.

Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton, who was instrumental in enacting the ordinance, says he’s been receiving inquiries from jurisdictions around the state and from other states. “It’s a pretty popular piece of paper right now,” he says.

But Mary Hartney, president of the Florida Fertilizer and Agrichemical Association, worries that a patchwork of different rules around the state will create a hardship for businesses that rely on using fertilizer. After the state adopted a rule in September limiting the phosphorus and nitrogen content in fertilizers for urban areas, the industry hoped cities and counties would feel that the issue had been addressed, she says. Hartney is also closely watching a newly convened state task force that has begun reviewing the different ordinances. The 12-member Florida Consumer Fertilizer Task Force, of which Thaxton is a member, will complete its work in mid-January and make recommendations to the state Legislature.

Residential Fertilizer Sales
in Southwest Florida (in tons)
County 2003 2006 Increase
Hillsborough 15,093 24,778 63%
Polk 11,458 22,488 96
Hernando 9,203 15,691 70
Pinellas 9,888 14,597 47
Sarasota 8,336 12,160 46
Manatee 7,240 8,655 20
Pasco 4,928 7,583 54
Citrus 2,657 3,526 33
De Soto 826 1,449 75
Source: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bureau of Compliance Monitoring

“Not fertilizing in the summer is not going to protect water,” says Erica Santella, a regional technical manager for TruGreen. “It’s more how you use fertilizer — where you put it, is your spreader calibrated. To focus on that one part really misses the whole picture.”