Mosaic to mine Duette farmland

DUETTE -- Farm fields long used to grow crops for a strawberry farm is on its way to becoming part of a phosphate mine that spans almost 12,000 acres in East Manatee.

Thursday, the Manatee County Planning Commission will consider converting 272 acres once owned by Wish Farms subsidiary G&D Farms into a mining extraction zone for phosphate giant Mosaic Co. Mosaic is requesting that the land be added to its Four Corners Mine master mining plan. If approved, the measure would allow the company to mine the majority of the land. It would also allow Mosaic to mine 32 acres previously used as a setback from neighboring property.

The property being considered by the planning commission is now zoned as cropland, according to county documents. Planning staff have recommended that the rezone be approved.

Records show G&D sold the land to Mosaic in 2008 as part of an $8.7 million deal that added property to the fertilizer company's holdings near the intersection of County Road 39 and State Road 62. In converting the former G&D parcel to mining use, Mosaic would be able to mine 242 acres.

Mining operations are expected to last two years, starting in 2016. Information Mosaic supplied to the county indicates that the company will use a dragline method to mine. Using a large scoop bucket, the company will remove somewhere between 15 and 50 feet of soil and sediment to expose the phosphate rock it processes into fertilizer. The company's website says its crews then use high-pressure water to convert the rock into a slurry. The slurry is piped to the mine's processing plant.

According to several websites that track the commodity price of rock phosphate, the mineral currently sells for $115 per metric ton. In 2014, Mosaic took in revenues of little more than $9 billion, according to the NASDAQ. The vast majority of the company's North America operations are in Florida.

Two years after mining ceases, Mosaic is scheduled to restore the land so it can be used for other purposes. It has also committed to placing a conservation easement over 10 acres of reclaimed streams and wetlands.

The rezone, which must be approved by the county's board of commissioners, will add to a growing loss of farmland in Manatee County. According to the Manatee County Appraiser's Office, more than 40,000 acres of farmland were converted to other uses between 2002 and 2014. At present, about 241,000 acres are listed on county tax rolls as agricultural lands.

Gary Wischnatzki, the owner and CEO of Wish Farms, said his company wound down its strawberry farming operation on the 272 acres last year, having farmed it since selling it to Mosaic. Land acquisitions over the past few years, through purchases and leases, will more than make up for the loss of growing ground.

"Our acreage is going to go up, not down," he said.

Wischnatzki said the land it sold to Mosaic was good for farming. His company has an option to buy it back when the mining operation is complete

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.