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

Corn Field
FertilizerPhosphorus: Complex, Inefficient, Essential
July 12, 2016
Submitted by Verdesian Life Sciences Managing phosphorous for optimum plant uptake and increased yield potential is no easy task. “Because of Read More
Hypoxic zone Gulf of Mexico
Fertilizer“Grand Challenge”: $1 Million Prize Offered For Best In-Field Solution To Hypoxia
July 11, 2016
Hypoxic “dead zones” are a continuing problem in areas ranging from Lake Erie to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond, but Read More
Crop InputsExperts Predict 2016 Lake Erie Harmful Algal Bloom ‘Less Severe’ (w/Gallery)
July 8, 2016
As sun-drenched media members and various other dignitaries crowded around the back deck of the docked Bio-Lab – bobbing gently Read More
Dr. Fred Below, University of Illinois pictured presenting at the LIFT Summit
Crop InputsLeaders of In-Furrow Technology Hold Summit At Innovation Plot
July 6, 2016
The Leaders of In-Furrow Technology (LIFT) held a LIFT Summit and field day on June 22-23 to discuss the latest Read More
Trending Articles
Heritage Cooperative
Retail FacilitiesKahler Automation Designs State-Of-The-Art Facility For Heritage Cooperative
July 4, 2016
Heritage Cooperative in Marysville, OH, needed an efficient liquid, dry and grain facility to serve the many needs of their Read More
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
Latest News
Kochia
Crop InputsNufarm Launches New Herbicide for Resistant Kochia
July 25, 2016
Nufarm introduces Scorch herbicide for U.S. farmers and ranchers combating a broad range of troublesome broadleaf weeds. A unique premix Read More
ManagementNew Rabobank Report Calls for Farmer ROI Focus
July 25, 2016
As U.S. row crop farmers brace themselves for a third year of negative margins, Rabobank believes farmers must lower the Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsBloomberg: Syngenta-Chem China Deal on Track for Regula…
July 25, 2016
Syngenta AG, which has agreed to be taken over by China National Chemical Corp. for $43 billion, said talks with Read More
ManagementGROWMARK Meeting Visit, Company Takeover Updates, and R…
July 22, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss their recent speaking engagement at GROWMARK’s eastern event, crop protection company merger rumors, Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto: EU Approves Roundup Ready 2 Xtend Imports
July 22, 2016
Monsanto Co. announced today that the European Commission has granted import approval for Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans. This milestone Read More
Syngenta headquarters in Basel, Switzerland
Crop InputsSyngenta Announces Alfalfa Seed Split Off
July 22, 2016
On September 1, 2016, Syngenta will transfer sales and distribution of alfalfa seed to the NEXGROW branded business that is Read More
Dow DuPont
Crop InputsDuPont, Dow Shareholders Approve Merger
July 21, 2016
DuPont and The Dow Chemical Company announced that, at their respective special meetings of stockholders held today, stockholders of both Read More
ManagementLand O’Lakes Announces SUSTAIN Business Unit, Oth…
July 20, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced the formal organization of a new business unit, SUSTAIN, and its leadership. SUSTAIN will focus Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Shareholder Proposes Monsanto ‘Host…
July 20, 2016
One of Bayer AG’s top 20 shareholders said Wednesday it may make sense for the life-science company to launch an Read More
Young Corn Closeup
Industry NewsNew Leaf Symbiotics Snags Former Monsanto Microbials Le…
July 20, 2016
NewLeaf Symbiotics, announced today the appointment of Dr. Janne Kerovuo as Vice President for Research and Discovery.  Dr. Kerovuo comes Read More
Corn and ditch
ManagementStudy: Saturated Buffers Reduce Nitrates From Subsurfac…
July 19, 2016
The Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC), Agricultural Drainage Management Systems Task Force and Dr. Dan Jaynes with the National Laboratory Read More
Case sprayer nozzle closeup
EquipmentAgronomists, CCAs, Custom Applicators Invited To FSR Ag…
July 19, 2016
Agronomists, Certified Crop Advisers (CCA) and custom applicators can stay current on agronomy issues on the grounds of the Farm Read More
Soybean Field
LegislationOhio Soybean Association Names Brian Hill Legislator Of…
July 19, 2016
The Ohio Soybean Association (OSA) has announced that State Representative Brian Hill (R-Zanesville) has been named one of two Legislators of Read More
Eric SfiligojThe Latest Monsanto Rumors: A Game Of Tones
July 18, 2016
When companies are engaged in the back-and-forth of the acquisition game, the tone of their various announcements is always important. Read More
Nozzle spray close-up
AdjuvantsWest Central Distribution Introduces New Elite Family O…
July 14, 2016
West Central Distribution recently released a new line of Elite adjuvants to work alongside the new herbicide technologies that combat Read More
Bayer sign
Crop InputsBayer Makes New Offer For Monsanto
July 14, 2016
Bayer AG boosted its takeover offer for Monsanto Co. to about $65 billion in a bid to overcome the U.S. Read More
ManagementAn Update on Water
July 14, 2016
CropLife Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Matthew Grassi discuss agricultural water issues in conjunction with a recent field trip in Ohio. Read More
Co-Alliance employee
EmployeesNew Purdue Program To Focus On Talent Management
July 14, 2016
Purdue University’s Center for Food and Agricultural Business is starting a new professional development program to help food and agribusiness Read More