Fertilizer, Soil or Plant Additives and Lime
The fertilizer program regulates the state’s sale of commercial fertilizer and related products such as soil or plant additives, liming materials and combination products.
The primary goals of the program are to: protect consumers against unfair and deceptive practices in the sale of fertilizer and related products; protect businesses against unfair and deceptive methods of competition; and prevent certain hazards to persons, property, and the environment.
Manufacturers, labelers and distributers of fertilizer and related products are required to be licensed, and some products need permit before they can be sold or distributed in the state. The permitting process ensures that products sold in the state are efficacious, useful, and not misleading. Companies that manufacture or distribute fertilizer and related products into the state also report and pay fees based on the tonnage sold/distributed into the state each year. In addition to licensing regulatory activities, the Department inspects fertilizer blending facilities and collects and analyzes fertilizer samples to ensure that the products meet their label guarantees.
Licensing Fertilizer manufacturers and distributors are licensed from August 15 through August 14 of the following year. In 2014, there were 766 entities licensed to manufacture or distribute fertilizer in Wisconsin, compared to 773 in 2013. Chart 1 indicates the licensees and tonnage for fertilizer in the past several years.
The soil or plant additive licensing year is from April 1 until March 30 of the following year. The number of companies licensed to distribute soil or plant additives in 2014 was 144, as shown in Chart 2. The number of soil or plant additive licenses issued each year has remained fairly consistent in the past several years.
The licensing period for liming materials is on the calendar year from January 1 until December 31. Chart 3 indicates that 104 lime licenses were issued in 2014, slightly less than the 110 licenses issued in 2013.
Tonnage Reporting Tonnage reporting for each program area is reported in the following year with the license renewal. All of the tonnage for fertilizer, soil or plant additives, and lime sold in 2014 will be submitted to the Department as part of the 2015 licensing process and will be included in the 2015 annual report.
Fertilizer licensees are required to report tons of fertilizer sold from July 1 until June 30 of the following year. Firms report the tonnage sold at the time of license renewal, so the numbers in this annual report reflect the fertilizer sold for the time period of July 1, 2013-June 30, 2014. The fertilizer tonnage reported for 2013-2014 was approximately 1.93 million tons, an increase of approximately 12 percent from the 1.72 million tons reported for the 2012-2013 period. The total tons of agricultural fertilizer reported sold or distributed into the state was 1.85 million tons, with 75,000 tons of non-agricultural fertilizer reported sold or distributed.
Soil or plant additive products sold by licensees are reported during license renewal for the previous calendar year. The total tons of soil or plant additives reported sold or distributed into Wisconsin during the 2013 calendar year was 72,904 tons, a 61 percent decrease from the 188,515 tons reported sold in 2012. The Department will be looking at the tonnage reported for companies that hold both a fertilizer and soil or plant additive license to determine what might account for the significant decrease in the tonnage reported for soil or plant additives.
Lime tonnage reporting for the year’s sales and distribution is not due until February 1 of the following year. The number of tons reported sold in 2013 decreased to 1.03 million tons from the 1.5 million tons that was reported in 2012.
Permitted Products The program also permitted 443 new products for distribution as non-agricultural or special agricultural use fertilizers in 2014. This is an increase of approximately 23 percent from the 360 permits issued in 2013. The increase in permits can be at least partially attributed to a change in staffing and a deliberate effort to clear up the backlog of permit applications.
The Department issued 105 new permits for distribution of soil or plant additive products in 2014. Liming material products that are not combination products do not require a permit for distribution.
Some products may be exempt from permitting, and there is an organic exemption determination request that may be applied to some fertilizer and fertilizer/soil or plant additive combination products. Over the past 5 years there have been 39 determinations granting organic exemption to various fertilizer or fertilizer/additive products. In 2014, there were 6 organic exemption determinations granted.
Fertilizer Sampling The Department’s environmental enforcement specialists (EES) collect surveillance fertilizer samples from facilities in the state during the spring/summer season and send samples to our laboratory for analysis. In 2014, laboratory staff analyzed 335 blended fertilizer samples from facilities, which included liquid bulk, dry bulk and bagged fertilizer. Overall, 88 percent of all blended samples collected and analyzed met their required guaranteed nutrient content and economic value. The percentage of mislabeled fertilizers was 12 percent in 2014, which means that one or more of the primary nutrients in 39 of the samples collected and analyzed failed to meet their guaranteed nutrient content in 2014. These results show a 15 percent improvement from 2013, when only 73 percent of sampled fertilizers met the requirements. The results of the samples were sent to thecompanies, and the Department will increase sampling next year at a number of facilities based on history of sampling results. 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 improve the sample results. Increased compliance could also be a result of better ingredients and processes at the manufacturing end.
We also collected 118 fertilizer ingredient samples prior to blending for the customer, which laboratory staff analyzed. These samples for nitrogen, available phosphate and soluble potash. The results were used to determine if the ingredients themselves are not meeting guarantees, and contributing to the blended fertilizer failures. Only one sample did not meet the guarantee. These results have enabled the Department to determine that blending deficiencies may not be due to the ingredients used in fertilizer blending, but rather the ingredients’ variable sizes, blending machinery or manufacturing practices that may cause the deficiencies.
The Department will continue to evaluate fertilizer samples in 2015 and will take additional steps as needed to continue to improve the rate of properly labeled fertilizer in Wisconsin.
Compliance Actions Staff did not conduct any compliance conferences with blending facilities for blending deficiencies in 2014. The facilities with a signed assurance of compliance to improve quality of fertilizer products or that were placed under Special Order for 2013 had met all of the conditions in the agreements and all of the sampled fertilizer blends passed analysis. Staff will collect an increased number of fertilizer samples at facilities with prior blending deficiencies. In addition, the Department will send letters of concern to a few facilities with more recent difficulty meeting label guarantees. The letters of concern offer guidance in meeting labeling criteria. Additional samples will be taken in 2015 to ensure these facilities have improved and are now meeting label guarantees.
Direction for the Coming Year
Approximately 475 fertilizer samples are scheduled to be collected at Wisconsin fertilizer blending facilities in 2015, as part of the Department’s ongoing surveillance program. Field staff collect three surveillance samples, approximately every three years, at facilities without a history of compliance issues. When surveillance sample failures occur, fertilizer sampling increases in frequency and number at the site. The fertilizer program specialist will be working with staff to determine what areas of the fertilizer and soil or plant additive industry in Wisconsin need additional focus for the program's inspection development.
Staff and industry identified the need to evaluate fertilizer deficiency labeling criteria, as specified in Wis. Adm. Code, ATCP 40.14. The rule revision was initiated in December 2014 when the Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection approved the ATCP 40 scoping statement. The scope of the rule revision is to review the formula that is used in determining if fertilizer is mislabeled or deficient to ensure it reflects current wholesale market prices for fertilizer ingredients.
The department-wide enterprise licensing system which will allow for licensing, tonnage, inspections, grants and complaints to be completed electronically is still progressing. Program staff are revising application forms and working on other process documents that will be needed prior to the migration into the enterprise system.
Program staff will be working on various projects to improve the fertilizer program in 2015. These include an administrative audit of the fertilizer/soil or plant additive permit database, improvement of information available on the website, opportunities for marketplace inspections and other inspection program developments.
For more information about any of the bureau programs you may email the department.
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