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

Young Corn Field
Crop NutritionNext Generation Of Nitrogen Efficiency Technology Converts Nitrogen To Bushels
June 13, 2016
Commodity price projections indicate farmers will continue to face tight margins again this year. Delivering higher yields and more bushels Read More
FertilizerMSU: Early Lake Erie Algal Bloom Projections Positive
June 1, 2016
Over the past decade, Lake Erie has seen an increase of harmful algal blooms (HABs). These algal blooms are made Read More
FertilizerSimplot Introduces Fused-Safe Ammonium Sulfate Nitrate Fertilizer
May 31, 2016
The J. R. Simplot Co.’s new FŪSN fertilizer is now commercially available to growers. Simplot uses advanced technology to fuse Read More
Crop InputsLand O’Lakes Announces Minnesota Water Quality Partnership
May 25, 2016
Governor Mark Dayton and Land O’Lakes, Inc. President and CEO Chris Policinski today announced a new public-private partnership to protect Read More
Trending Articles
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To Explore IT Solutions
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Eric SfiligojWhat’s Next For Monsanto?
May 31, 2016
For the folks at Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis, MO, it has been an eventful few weeks. Back on May Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Industry NewsMonsanto Rejects Bayer Bid; Open To More Talks
May 25, 2016
Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer AG’s $62 billion acquisition bid as “incomplete and financially inadequate” Read More
Eric SfiligojPity The Monsanto Haters
May 23, 2016
An old saying goes thus: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” Given current events, there Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Eyeing Monsanto For Possible Mega-Merger
May 16, 2016
Bayer AG is exploring a potential bid for U.S. competitor Monsanto Co. in a deal that would create the world’s Read More
Latest News
Industry NewsCompass Minerals Names Protassium+ Sales Director
June 28, 2016
Compass Minerals, the producer of Protassium+ sulfate of potash, has named Scott Johnson director of sales for Protassium+ North America. Read More
Eric SfiligojThe British Leave Vote Impact On EU Agriculture
June 27, 2016
Like virtually everyone else in the world this past week, I’ve watched the global reaction to Britain’s vote to exit Read More
Valent David Nothmann
Crop InputsValent Names David Nothmann Vice President Of Marketing
June 27, 2016
Valent U.S.A. Corp. has announced the appointment of David Nothmann as vice president of marketing. Nothmann will be responsible for Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stew…
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Contributes To Mayo Clinic
June 27, 2016
BRANDT, a leading agriculture retailer and manufacturer of specialty agriculture products, has pledged a sizable donation to the Mayo Clinic Read More
ManagementReport: U.S. Farmland Values On Average Continue Gradua…
June 27, 2016
Land price movement has been in the forefront for farmers, landowners, lenders and land brokers for a decade now during Read More
AdjuvantsPrecision Laboratories Introduces Intact Xtra For Use W…
June 27, 2016
Precision Laboratories announces the launch of Intact Xtra, an adjuvant designed for applicators who want to maximize spray applications and Read More
Key Cooperative’s new liquid fertilizer, crop chemical, and seed facility in Grinnell, IA stores 1.5 million gallons of liquid fertilizer and 120,000 gallons of crop chemicals.
Retail FacilitiesKey Cooperative Facility Features The Latest In Murray …
June 27, 2016
When Key Cooperative wanted to improve the overall efficiency at its new state-of-the-art facility in Grinnell, IA, it turned to Read More
Allen Summers Asmark Institute PSM Training
EmployeesAsmark Institute Sponsors 25 ResponsibleAg Auditor Trai…
June 21, 2016
The Asmark Institute has announced plans to provide 25 scholarships through their affiliated State fertilizer and agrichemical associations to help encourage Read More
Kennebec Elevator
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Celebrates Kennebec Elevator Grand Openin…
June 21, 2016
Over 250 patrons and guests were on hand to celebrate Wheat Growers’ Kennebec Elevator grand opening. South Dakota Secretary of Read More
Land O Lakes
Industry NewsLand O’Lakes To Acquire Ceres
June 20, 2016
Land O’ Lakes, Inc. and Ceres, Inc. have announced that they have signed a definitive merger agreement under which Land O’Lakes Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To …
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
LegislationVilsack Christens WinField Crop Adventure, Talks Monsan…
June 17, 2016
The WinField Crop Adventure grand opening ceremonies at Fair Oaks Farms (near Winemac, IN) welcomed USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Read More
Crop InputsFields of the Future: WinField Doubles Down with Agri-E…
June 16, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc., joined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, today will host Fields of the Future, a live broadcast about Read More
Bayer sign
Crop InputsMonsanto Turns Back Bayer Again
June 14, 2016
Bayer AG’s bid to buy Monsanto Co. for more than $60 billion has hit an impasse that could pose a Read More
Young Corn Field
Crop NutritionNext Generation Of Nitrogen Efficiency Technology Conve…
June 13, 2016
Commodity price projections indicate farmers will continue to face tight margins again this year. Delivering higher yields and more bushels Read More
Industry NewsLa Crosse Seed Acquires Cover Crop Solutions Brand
June 10, 2016
La Crosse Seed announces that it is the new and exclusive owner of the entire family of brands of Cover Read More