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Fertilizer legislation, which impacts algae blooms, is likely to come for Florida's 2024 session

Dead fish litter the shore from the last red tide outbreak in 2022.
Conor Goulding
Mote Marine Laboratory
Stormwater runoff carries nutrients from fertilizers into local water bodies, which then feed toxic algae blooms that kill marine life and cause respiratory issues for people.

Urban fertilizer application and agricultural fertilizer application are currently “being revised behind the scenes.”

The advocacy organization 1000 Friends of Florida recently discussed what to expect ahead of the state’s legislative session, which starts Jan. 9.

Haley Busch, with the nonprofit, said near the end of the last session, a pause on local fertilizer ordinances was "slipped" into the state's budget, so it wasn’t a standalone bill.

It prevented local governments from amending or adopting fertilizer ordinances for a full year. Cities and counties use fertilizer ordinances to prevent nutrients from feeding algae blooms, like red tide and blue-green algae, in local water bodies.

But lawmakers also required that the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study the effectiveness of these ordinances and present its results by Dec. 31.

Busch said to look out for legislation around this report.

“There are concerns that this new report might be a sort of a cherry-picking of select scientific studies from the past few decades," Busch said. "One year … the requirement for this study … one year is not enough time to conduct a full, thorough test of all those county and municipal fertilizer ordinances and their impacts on water quality.

"Our concern here is that the preemption on the local ordinances will be made permanent and local governments will lose their ability to tailor fertilizer ordinances to their local hydrology to their local and regional needs.”

Busch is also concerned about legislation from 2022 that allowed citrus growers to have more leeway when applying fertilizers to crops. It’s called rate tailoring.

SB 1000 was sponsored by Sen. Ben Albritton, who is slated to be Florida’s new Senate president, and Rep. Lawrence McClure.

The measure authorized citrus growers to move away from current “best management practices” for applying nutrients and instead use site-specific nutrient management.

Researchers at UF-IFAS were directed to analyze this process for other crops, outside of citrus.

"We've got some concerns that the focus here will be on maximizing crop yield instead of including the important water quality protection component to fertilizer application,” Busch said.

The main takeaway, she said, is that urban fertilizer application and agricultural fertilizer application are currently “being revised behind the scenes.”

Busch warned that Florida's legislature is soon going to have some big players with strong connections to the agriculture industry, like Albritton when he takes over as Senate president, along with the state’s recent commissioner of agriculture, Wilton Simpson.

“Both of them are farmers with strong connections to the agriculture industry, and sort of preview of the kind of weight that agriculture will have on related fertilizer legislation in the coming years,” Busch said.

My main role for WUSF is to report on climate change and the environment, while taking part in NPR’s High-Impact Climate Change Team. I’m also a participant of the Florida Climate Change Reporting Network.