The primary goals of the Fertilizer, Soil or Plant Additive and Lime (Fertilizer) program are to protect consumers against unfair and deceptive practices in the sale of these products; to protect businesses against unfair and deceptive methods of competition; and to prevent certain hazards to persons, property, and the environment. Manufacturers, labelers and distributers of these products are required to be licensed and product labeling must be approved and/or permitted before being distributed in the state. The label review and permitting process ensures that products sold in the state are efficacious, useful, and not misleading. The department inspects fertilizer blending facilities and collects and analyzes samples to ensure that the products meet their label guarantees.
The fertilizer licensing year is August 15-August 14 of the following year. In 2012, as Chart 1 indicates, 778 entities were licensed to manufacture or distribute fertilizer in Wisconsin, compared to the 741 licensed in 2011. The program also permitted 281 new products for distribution as non-agricultural or special agricultural use fertilizers and an additional 379 were determined to be exempt from requiring a permit. Fertilizer licensees are required to report tons of fertilizer sold from July 1st until June 30th of the following year. The fertilizer tonnage reported for 2011-2012 was approximately 1.8 million tons, a modest increase from the 1.3 million tons reported for the 2010-2011 period.
Chart 2 indicates that license numbers for the liming industry have increased slightly in 2012, with 110 licensees compared to 103 in 2011. The licensing period for liming materials runs from January 1 until December 31 of the same year. Lime tonnage reporting for the same period is not due until February 1 of the following year. The number of tons reported sold in 2011 increased to 1.18 million tons from 1.13 million tons in 2010. Liming material sold in 2012 has been reported to the department as part of the 2013 licensing process; however, the data will be in the 2013 annual report. Lime products do not require a permit for distribution.
The soil or plant additive licensing year is from April 1 until March 30 of the following year. Chart 3 shows that the number of companies licensed to distribute soil or plant additives 2012 was 146, a slight increase from 135 in 2011. The department issued 132 new permits for distribution of soil or plant additive products in 2012. Licensees are required to report tons of soil or plant additive products sold the previous calendar year. The total tons of soil or plant additives reported sold during the 2011 calendar year was 226,172 tons, a significant increase from the 73,182 tons sold in 2010. The increase in tonnage appears to reflect the large increase in permits issued over the past several years. Tonnage for soil or plant additives sold in 2012 was submitted to the department as part of the 2013 licensing process and will be included in the 2013 annual report.
In 2012, the department’s laboratory staff analyzed 376 fertilizer samples from blending facilities, which included liquid, dry bulk and bagged fertilizer. Approximately 76% of all samples collected and analyzed met their required guaranteed nutrient content and economic value; this is an improvement from the 70% that met guarantees in 2011. Liquid fertilizer compliance rates improved substantially, in 2012, with 79.6% meeting guarantees, compared to 62.2% of liquid fertilizer samples which meet the label guarantee in 2011. Dry bulk fertilizer also improved its labeling practices in 2012; 77.5% met label guarantees an increase from 74% in 2011. The percentage of mislabeled bag fertilizer decreased from 46% in 2011 to 33.8%. While is it difficult to attribute the improved labeling to any one action, the department has increased its on-site compliance visits and efforts over the past two years. Sampling data indicates that the increased attention towards noncompliant facilities may have helped increase compliance. Increased compliance could also be a result of better ingredients and processes at the manufacturing end.
Although the overall rate of correctly labeled fertilizer products improved in 2012 from the previous three years, the department continued to take additional steps to improve the rate of properly labeled fertilizer in Wisconsin. Staff had compliance conferences with fertilizer facilities and increased sampling at a number of sites as described below.
The Agrichemical Management Bureau also prepared several short educational videos that are on the DATCP YouTube channel, including one on Fertilizer Licensing and Permitting.
Staff conducted compliance conferences with three blending facilities that had substantial on-going blending deficiencies. Two of these sites signed an Assurance of Compliance to improve quality of fertilizer products; one of these facilities showed marked improvement in meeting label guarantees. The second site continues to make improvements in their blending procedures and is committed to working with the department to meet label guarantees. A third facility did not return a signed Assurance of Compliance to the department and is under Special Order for 2013.
Staff also collected an increased number of fertilizer samples at 30 facilities with blending deficiencies. Approximately half of these facilities showed substantial improvement in meeting label guarantees in 2012. Staff also visited four blending facilities with on-going problems of not meeting fertilizer label guarantees—and whose sample results did not improve--and offered compliance assistance. In addition, the department sent letters of concern to the ten facilities whose difficulty meeting label guarantees is more recent. The letters of concern offer guidance in meeting labeling criteria. Additional samples will be taken in 2013 to ensure these facilities have improved and are now meeting label guarantees.
Direction for the Coming Year
Approximately 450 fertilizer samples are scheduled for sampling at Wisconsin fertilizer blending facilities in 2013, as part of the department’s on-going surveillance program. Field staff take three surveillance samples approximately every three years at facilities without a history of compliance issues. Fertilizer sampling increases in frequency and number when failures are found. Approximately 30 facilities will have an increased number of fertilizer samples in 2013 in order to help evaluate the rate of compliance and to possibly implement enforcement measures. One of these facilities, which continues to assess and improve its manufacturing processes, signed an Assurance of Compliance with the department for 2013. Another facility was issued a Special Order by the department because of a history of blending deficiencies.
Staff and industry identified the need to evaluate fertilizer labeling criteria, as specified in Chapter ATCP 40.14, Wis. Adm. Code. Program staff are working with industry representatives to evaluate criteria that are reflective of current market values of fertilizer ingredients, while still protecting Wisconsin’s consumers and businesses from unfair or deceptive fertilizer labeling.
Program staff are also working with the fertilizer industry, University of Wisconsin-Madison staff, Department of Natural Resources staff, other programs within DATCP, and the Association of American Plant Food Control Officials to improve how fertilizer licensees report tonnage to the department and how the department summarizes fertilizer tonnage information to data users. The department is working to develop an electronic reporting system of fertilizer tonnage that is compatible with a system that is being developed on a national level.
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