2013 Asmark Retailers LIVE! Tour: 5 Takeaways

RANDT’s Jason McCardle (right) tells the Asmark Institute tour group how the implementation of Bayer’s On Demand seed treatment system has helped drive efficiency at the Lexington, IL, retailer.
RANDT’s Jason McCardle (right) tells the Asmark Institute tour group how the implementation of Bayer’s On Demand seed treatment system has helped drive efficiency at the Lexington, IL, retailer.

Two weeks after the West Fertilizer tragedy, a group of 26 ag-industry association folks set out for a week of touring retail locations and interacting with industry members upon whom’s behalf many of them work on a daily basis. Comprised mainly of young employees from The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA), CropLife America (CLA) and gracious host the Asmark Institute, the group received an up-close-and-personal schooling on some of the many challenges facing the industry today.

Here are five of the many takeaways from that valuable week:

1. An Ammonium Nitrate Battle Is Brewing: Ammonium nitrate (AN), that now-naughty word, was on the tip of everybody’s tongue throughout the week after it was learned that the fertilizer was found to be the cause of the two concussive explosions that shook West.

When it came to AN, of the 25 retail locations toured the group met three types: 1) those that strictly do not sell AN; 2) those that once sold AN but have since stopped; and 3) those that still vend 34-0-0. Agri-Gro Fertilizer, Hartford, KY, co-owner Scott Beddow, whose relatively small retail outlet lies conspicuously adjacent to a residential neighborhood, belongs to the second group. “We quit doing ammonium nitrate a couple of years after I came on (as manager),” he says. “We’ve got quite a bit of fuel on premises, so we could have potentially had an explosive situation pretty easily here.”

Ceres Solutions, Vincennes, IN, also fits into that second group. “We used to do AN, but after the Oklahoma City bombing we decided to move away from it,” says Dan Weber, vice president agronomy. “We switched to straight urea, and that upset some of our farmers, but we’ll go ahead and tell customers to use something else and risk losing those customers if it’s something we believe in strongly enough.”

Further south at Montgomery Farmer’s Cooperative, Smyrna, TN, a branch of Tennessee Farmer’s Cooperative, manager Chris Schmidt oversees a highly diversified operation (65% of sales in agronomy, 35% in consumer goods; $20 million annual sales) that also happens to sell AN in a high traffic area of town. Schmidt says the retailer stopped selling bagged AN in 2010, and the majority of the product now goes out in a blend. “We’ve never had any issues with the product,” he says. “We’re extremely careful and we make sure we stay on top of all the regulations.”

Schmidt would be remiss to overlook the growing sentiment, both outside and, to a smaller scale within the ag community itself, that wants to see the product done away with completely. “It’s a necessity,” he says in response. “Sure they’ve got other forms of nitrate, but AN is one that gives you good growth and is relatively safe compared to what some people may think.

“It’s essential for row crop production in this area of the country,” he continues. “Tobacco, wheat, rice and corn – these crops have got to have something to get them to grain stage.”

2. Proximity To Town Not The End All Be All: If you happen to peruse the comments section of virtually any article on the West tragedy (do so at your intelligence’s own risk), you’re sure to find some Monday Morning Quarterbacks valiantly taking the officials in West, TX, to task over “just why the West Fertilizer Co. was located so close to residential neighborhoods and schools.” However, as attendees found out, where a facility is located in proximity to municipal development isn’t always within the retailer’s control, and it’s not always a negative if that facility is near town.

“We were here way before the city ever was,” says Montgomery Farmers Cooperative’s Schmidt. “Now the city is right here in our backyard and any little hiccup that happens here everybody is going to know about it.”

In order to avoid those hiccups, the facility that Schmidt manages deploys a gauntlet of safety precautions, including eight-foot high perimeter fencing, motion detectors and cameras, and they also enjoy a healthy police patrol presence, one of the positives of being so close to town, according to Schmidt.

Meanwhile, up in Tolono, IL, at United Prairie, the group viewed a retail outfit that outgrew its original location smack dab in the middle of town, later building a much larger facility on a piece of property far away from any residential development. The city location now houses the branch’s administrative offices and some equipment storage, while all anhydrous ammonia and other hazardous materials are stored out at the new location.

3. Emergency Response Resources Already In Place: The Monday Morning Quarterbacks are also vehemently questioning the training and actions of the West emergency responders that tried to contain the fire prior to the two devastating explosions. And while it’s yet to be seen whether they have a leg to stand on in that regard (as of press time the cause of the fire is still unknown), the ag industry as a whole should not be on the hook for the actions and training (or lack thereof) of those emergency responders.

As the group witnessed throughout three scheduled stop offs at Asmark Institute facilities, the tools are readily available for any retailer that wishes to take dealership safety and security seriously. Namely, Asmark’s “Emergency Response To Ag Incidents Class”, taught at its Nashville, TN-area office by the engaging Bill Basham and his son Billy. The only class of its kind in the U.S., the course consists of four, eight-hour days of intense, hands-on training, after which participants take both a written examination and work through five simulated spill scenarios in teams, upon which they are evaluated.

“In my opinion, this is the best service Asmark has offered in its 24 years,” says Basham, a former Marine with a background in explosives whose energetic classroom demeanor ensures the class isn’t your typical yawn-inducing safety course. “What happens in the first three minutes of an emergency response determines whether you’ve got a $500 spill or a $1.3 million spill.”

Anhydrous ammonia safety and handling, as well as grain bin extraction training are also offered by Asmark, as are a plethora of other safety and security resources for ag retailers. Take advantage, folks, take advantage.

4. Regulatory Overload A Daunting Challenge: During the sessions at the Asmark Institute branches, participants got an inside peak at the overwhelming regulatory burdens ag retailers face in order to earn a living. Asmark president Allen Summers exposed the group to everything from compliance-based risk management practices to the thin grey line that differentiates an implement of husbandry (vehicle dedicated to crop production service) from a non-commercial vehicle and the requirements that go hand-in-hand with operating an implement of husbandry.

With lawmakers already breathing fire and brimstone for more regulation on the industry as a whole, perhaps what the industry needs isn’t more rules but better enforcement of the existing rules when one bad actor reveals itself.

5. Allstate Customers Ain’t The Only Ones In Good Hands: After five days of learning and discussing virtually every facet of ag retail, upon parting ways this author couldn’t shake the impression that this industry has some impressive, dynamic young leaders ready to go to bat for ag retailers and their grower-customers on Capitol Hill.

While industry folks may talk a lot about how agriculture is aging and there is a generational gap in the industry, the sheer passion and amount of knowledge displayed by the relatively youthful delegations from ARA, CLA, TFI and the National Agricultural Aviators Association seem to point otherwise. If I were an ag retailer, these people are exactly the type of passionate and insightful, tuned-in professionals I would want watching my back in Washington.

Leave a Reply

Fertilizer Stories

FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
Aerial view of the West Fertilizer explosion site
FertilizerFertilizer Companies Blame City For West, TX, Explosion
August 6, 2014
El Dorado Chemical Co. and CF Industries contend the city failed to properly train the first responders and had insufficient protocols in place to battle the April 17, 2013, blaze at West Fertilizer Co. that triggered the explosion. Read More
FertilizerThe Fertilizer Institute: New President, Renewed Energy
February 3, 2014
Chris Jahn relishes the opportunity to lead the organization through the challenging times ahead. Read More
FertilizerA New Cycle For Fertilizer Demand
January 2, 2014
Changes in the corn market could have a major impact on the crop nutrients sector in 2014, say experts. Read More

Trending Articles

CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More
EquipmentNew Holland Acquires Miller-St. Nazianz
September 3, 2014
The assets of Miller acquired as part of the transaction will become part of New Holland Agriculture, a CNH Industrial brand, building on a successful four-year partnership between the two companies. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires East Kansas Chemical
September 2, 2014
Ranked 82nd on the CropLife 100, East Kansas Chemical will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More
ManagementExpert To Discuss Farmland Value, Rent At Farm Science Review
August 18, 2014
While cropland values in Ohio increased in the past two years, they have remained flat in 2014, declining in some cases, according to an Ohio State University agricultural economist. Read More
EquipmentAdvance Your Technology IQ At MAGIE
August 13, 2014
The Midwest AG Industries Exposition (August 20-21) is the place you need to be to see, study and evaluate how new advances in the equipment, operations, crop protection and fertility sectors can help your business prosper. Read More

Latest News

Seed/BiotechUSDA Approves Enlist Following Rigorous Review
September 18, 2014
Dow AgroSciences now awaits EPA registration of Enlist Duo herbicide, the companion herbicide to the Enlist traits, which is expected in the near future. Read More
BlendersYargus Appoints New Plant Manager
September 18, 2014
Steve Shaffer will direct and coordinate daily operations at the company’s Marshall, IL, manufacturing plant, where the Layco line of material handling equipment is produced. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires Kansas-Based Cedar Ridge Supply
September 16, 2014
Cedar Ridge Supply will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
StewardshipSecretary Vilsack Highlights Innovative Conservation Ef…
September 15, 2014
Nearly $16 million in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) will be awarded to 47 organizations to help develop cutting-edge ideas to accelerate innovation in private lands conservation. Read More
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Responds To Cargill Lawsuit
September 15, 2014
Syngenta believes that the lawsuit is without merit and strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies. Read More
Equipment2014 Farm Science Review Launches Mobile App
September 15, 2014
Smartphone and tablet users planning on attending the 2014 Farm Science Review can now download this year’s customized mobile application. Read More
CropLife 100Southern States Coop Grower Sets Georgia Soybean Yield …
September 15, 2014
Georgia farmer Randy Dowdy's soybeans yielded an astonishing 110.66 bushels per acre, crushing the previous record of 82 bushels-per-acre. Read More
NIMITZ Treated vs Untreated pepper plant
InsecticidesNIMITZ Nematicide Approved By EPA
September 12, 2014
NIMITZ is a novel, non-fumigant nematicide with simplified application features, user safety and an active ingredient with a unique mode of action. Read More
InsecticidesMarrone Bio Innovations Receives Patent For Chromobacte…
September 11, 2014
The patent is the first step for MBI in developing a commercially viable product to inhibit infestations of corn rootworm larvae across America and other regions. Read More
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences: Keeping The Pipeline Stocked
September 11, 2014
Dow AgroSciences is embracing product diversity to drive the company’s future. Read More
CropLife 100CHS Is Official Partner Of New St. Paul Ballpark
September 10, 2014
The new ballpark in St. Paul, MN, officially became CHS Field with Twin Cities-based CHS Inc. revealed as the naming rights partner. Read More
EquipmentHagie Honors Farming Stewardship Leaders
September 10, 2014
The Iowa Farm Environmental Leader award recognizes Iowa farmers as environmental leaders that are committed to healthy soils and improved water quality. Read More
Precision AgPlantBeat: Your Plants’ Pulse In The Palm Of Your Han…
September 10, 2014
A new agronomic monitoring and recommendation service from Phytech could rewrite the book on real-time plant health status monitoring. Read More
StewardshipCCAs Making Headway With 4R Program In Lake Erie Wester…
September 9, 2014
Certified Crop Advisers are implementing the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification program in Lake Erie's Western Basin to improve water quality. Read More
MicronutrientsMicronutrients Going Macro
September 9, 2014
Between 2014’s fantastic growing conditions and a heightened awareness on plant nutrition, the major players in micronutrients are gearing up for another big year. Read More
Crop InputsFMC Announces Cheminova Takeover
September 8, 2014
FMC Corporation today announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Cheminova, a wholly owned subsidiary of Auriga Industries. Read More
HerbicidesValent’s Fierce XLT Herbicide Receives EPA Approv…
September 8, 2014
Valent U.S.A. Corp. announced today that Fierce XLT Soybean Herbicide is now federally registered for preemergence weed control in soybeans Read More
Eric SfiligojIndustry Consolidation Set To Increase Going Forward
September 8, 2014
As the agricultural marketplace moves into fall, one observer predicts the pace of consolidation will grow at all levels. Read More