illustration of Kissengen Springs, Florida, which dried up in 1950

Part III: Water & Land

From the moonscape phosphate mines of Florida’s Bone Valley to the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” that threatens one of the nation’s most productive fisheries, the fertilizer industry has profoundly changed water and landscapes in the American southeast.

Karen Phillips’ grandson fishes at Sunshine Bass Pier. The pair love to visit the fish management area to read and catch fish like bass or tilapia. The boy returns every fish he catches.

Beneath the Surface

Florida’s old phosphate mines have been turned into housing developments, parks, bass lakes, golf courses and restored wetlands and other wildlife habitats. But does “reclaiming” live up to the claims?

The Gulf dead zone and a legacy of science

Every year, the oxygen-depleted “dead zone” materializes as a large area of nearly uninhabitable waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Oceanographer Nancy Rabalais has spent four decades exposing the crisis and its cause – nutrients flowing from farms and other sources down the Mississippi River. As she retires, will we listen?

Renowned marine biologist Nancy Rabalais stands in front of the research vessel the Acadiana in Cocodrie, La., Wednesday, March 15. (Lauren Whiddon/WUFT News)
Outdoor lights turn on in front of the U.S. capitol as the sun sets in Washington, D.C., on April 19, 2021. Photo courtesy of Preston Keres/USDA/FPAC.

Your money and the climate are up for debate in this year’s farm bill

The Farm Bill, up for renewal this fall, dictates how millions of dollars are divided among all things food: farms, family food aid and fertilizer. Conservationists and agriculture advocates hope to use this year’s bill to move the needle on fertilizer’s contribution to climate change. But gridlock may stop it in its tracks.

Explore Part IV: Profit »

These stories are part of The Price of Plenty, a special project investigating fertilizer from the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications and the University of Missouri School of Journalism, supported by the Pulitzer Center’s nationwide Connected Coastlines reporting initiative.