Fertilizer, Soil and Plant Additives and Lime
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 some products must be permitted before being distributed in the state. The permitting process ensures that products sold in the state are efficacious, useful, and not misleading. In addition, the department inspects fertilizer blending facilities and collects and analyzes fertilizer samples to ensure that the products meet their label guarantees.
The fertilizer licensing year is August 15th until August 14th of the following year. In 2013, as Chart 1 indicates, 773 entities were licensed to manufacture or distribute fertilizer in Wisconsin, compared to the 749 licensed in 2012. The program also permitted 360 new products for distribution as non-agricultural or special agricultural use fertilizers, an increase of approximately 22% from the 281 permits issued in 2012. 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 2012-2013 was approximately 1.72 million tons, a decrease of approximately 5% from the 1.8 million tons reported for the 2011-2012 period.
The licensing period for liming materials is on the calendar year from January 1st until December 31st. Chart 2 indicates that license numbers for the liming industry have remained at 110 licensees, as it was in 2012. Lime tonnage reporting for the same period is not due until February 1st of the following year. The number of tons reported sold in 2012 increased approximately 0.8% to 1.5 million tons from the 1.2 million tons that was reported in 2011. Liming material sold in 2013 will be reported to the department as part of the 2014 licensing process; that data will be in the 2014 annual report. Lime products do not require a permit for distribution.
The soil or plant additive licensing year is from April 1st until March 30th of the following year. Chart 3 shows that the number of companies licensed to distribute soil or plant additives in 2013 was 146, a slight increase of approximately 2% from 143 in 2012. The department issued 125 new permits for distribution of soil or plant additive products in 2013. 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 2012 calendar year was 188,515 tons, a decrease of approximately 17% from the 226,172 tons sold in 2011. Tonnage for soil or plant additives sold in 2013 was submitted to the department as part of the 2014 licensing process and will be included in the 2014 annual report.
In 2013, the department’s laboratory staff analyzed 401 fertilizer samples from blending facilities, which included liquid bulk, dry bulk and bagged fertilizer. Overall, 73% of all samples collected and analyzed met their required guaranteed nutrient content and economic value. The percentage of mislabeled fertilizers sampled was 27% in 2013. This means that one or more of primary nutrients in 108 of the samples collected and analyzed failed to meet their guaranteed nutrient content. Staff held compliance conferences with fertilizer facilities whose percentages of mislabeled fertilizers increased or continued to not meet the guarantee. The department will increase sampling at a number of facilities based on this year’s results of their fertilizer samples.
The department has increased its on-site compliance visits and efforts over the past few years, and 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. The department continues to take additional steps to improve the rate of properly labeled fertilizer in Wisconsin.
Staff conducted compliance conferences with three blending facilities that had blending deficiencies and whom signed an Assurance of Compliance to improve quality of fertilizer products. Another facility was placed under Special Order for 2013, based on continued blending deficiencies.
Staff also collected an increased number of fertilizer samples at facilities with prior blending deficiencies. In addition, the department sent letters of concern to several 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 2014 to ensure these facilities have improved and are now meeting label guarantees.
Direction for the Coming Year
During 2013, a significant staffing change occurred within the fertilizer program and section area. The program specialist and licensing program associate had retired, and the Section Chief had transferred to a different Division. In late 2013, the working unit has been reorganized to better meet the future needs of the program. In early 2014, all vacant positions within the program and section areas were filled. It is anticipated that program managers and staff will be focusing time and resources on training and learning the industry in 2014.
Approximately 486 fertilizer samples are scheduled for sampling at Wisconsin fertilizer blending facilities in 2014, as part of the department’s on-going surveillance program. The field staff collect three surveillance samples, approximately every three years, at facilities without a history of compliance issues. Fertilizer sampling increases in frequency and number when surveillance sample failures occur.
In 2014 we will be sampling fertilizer ingredients, in addition to blended samples, from several locations. The results of these samples will be used as part of the department’s surveillance program in order to determine if blending deficiencies may be due to the ingredients used in fertilizer blending. The results of this sampling will be shared with industry to assist them in evaluating their quality control programs, since they are responsible for ensuring that their products meet label guarantees.
Staff and industry identified the need to evaluate fertilizer labeling criteria, as specified in Wis. Adm. Code, ATCP 40.14. Program staff are collaborating with industry representatives to evaluate the criteria used in labeling and ensuring that the criteria is reflective of current market values of fertilizer ingredients; all the while continuing to protect Wisconsin’s consumers and businesses from unfair or deceptive fertilizer labeling. This rule revision will likely be initiated in late 2014.
Program staff are also working with the fertilizer industry, 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. The department will be developing a working group with industry to gain input and ideas on this reporting system in late in 2014.
Program staff are also working on projects related to the division IT project and a department wide enterprise licensing system. This system will allow for licensing, inspections, grants and complaints to be completed electronically; in addition to the electronic reporting system of fertilizer tonnage. We are revising application forms and working on other process documents that will be needed prior to migrating to the enterprise system.
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