What is phosphate? – by Matt M. Johnson (Bradenton Herald – January 2, 2016)


DUETTE — At its Wingate Creek and Four Corners mines in Manatee County, Mosaic is digging phosphate rock out of the earth for use as the primary component in the agricultural fertilizers it manufactures.

Rich in an essential plant nutrient, phosphorous, the rock lies beneath the surface in deposits throughout central Florida. Left behind when sea water receded from Florida about 15 million years ago, much of the phosphate collected is in a formation known as the Bone Valley. The 1.3-million acre formation stretches between modern-day Polk, Hillsborough, Desoto and Manatee counties.

Florida is now home to 27 phosphate mines covering more than 491,900 acres, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Making its fertilizers requires numerous steps. For example, at the Wingate Creek Mine, the rock is pulled out of the ground by a barge that grinds and sucks it out of the bottom of a man-made lake. The phosphate is then separated from the sand and rock.

From there, the phosphate is trucked to Mosaic’s New Wales processing plant in Mulberry. Sulfuric acid is used to strip the phosphorous from the rock. The resulting product, phosphoric acid, is a component in Mosaic fertilizers. The waste byproduct, known as phosphogypsum, is piled into vast mounds called “stacks.”

Up to 70 percent of American farmers buy fertilizers made from Mosaic phosphate, according to the company’s website. According to U.S. Department of Energy, Florida supplies 25 percent of world and 75 percent of U.S. demand for phosphate.

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