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Bronson's controversial enviro view

Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson suggested to a House comittee yesterday that water managers erred last summer when they bowed to environmentalists and opposed the back-pumping of water from farm retention ponds to boost lake levels. Environmentalists warned that the farm water may have contained phosphorus-laden pollutants.

''But that water had much less phosphorus in it than the lake has,'' he said. ``We missed an opportunity.''

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He's right. Much of the EAA (from where they would backpump)is planted in sugar cane.

Sugarcane requires much less phosphorus than many other crops--For example, only one half the amount of phosphorus needed for sweet corn, one third the amount needed for celery, and only one quarter the amount needed for lettuce.

Sugarcane, like any other plant, requires nutrients for optimum growth. In the EAA, nutrients are provided for plant uptake from rainfall, irrigation water, the organic soils, and supplemental fertilizer. Research by the University of Florida to determine adequate levels of nutrient elements necessary for sugarcane production began in1929. Early research showed that the high levels of phosphorus needed for vegetable production reduced the amount of sugar in the cane stalk. Since then, numerous research studies based on yield responses have established the guidelines currently used for fertilizer rates.

Research studies by Coale et. al. (Agron. J. 85:310-315) showed that sugarcane biomass removes more phosphorus from the soil than the amount applied as fertilizer. This indicates that the sugarcane plant uses not only fertilizer phosphorus but also residual and naturally occurring phosphorus as well.

In another study, Izuno et. al. (Agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Phosphorus Loading Reduction in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), IFAS, U of F, 11/29/90) showed that less phosphorus was found in drainage water from fertilized sugarcane fields than in the drainage water from adjacent non-fertilized fallow fields.

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