Ford West: Remembering Three Decades Of Accomplishments

Ford West TributeAs those who know him best will tell you, there are two distinct ways to view outgoing The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) head Ford West. On one hand, West is a consummate trade association leader, with modern sensibilities for saying the right thing at the right time. But on the other hand, he is also a no-nonsense, “shoot from the hip” speaker who can quickly boil down a complicated issue into a simple plan of action.

“He was a rock after so many heart-breaking events, most notably Oklahoma City, 9/11 and more recently, West, TX,” says Mary Hartney, president of the Florida Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association (FFAA). “He could be the compassionate counselor or the stern taskmaster.”

Indeed, West’s response to the tragedy in West, TX, where a fertilizer plant explosion on April 17, 2013, killed 15 and devastated the small town, illustrates this point. As Kathy Mathers, vice president of public affairs for TFI remembers, West first called the TFI staff to action in the early evening on that date.

“Ford called me around 10 p.m., telling me about what had happened in West, TX, and asking all staffers to immediately come into the office,” says Mathers. “I got there around 2 a.m., and Ford was already hard at work on our response.”

By April 25, following a tour of the area, West and TFI released this official statement on the events of West, TX to the world: “The fertilizer industry shares America’s sympathy for the people of West, TX. The stories of lives lost, lives uprooted and a community that has been devastated are heartbreaking. While essential to feeding the world, some of the products handled by retailers require special care and handling. It is up to each retailer to work with local, state and federal regulators to ensure the safety of the community in which his or her business functions.”

But in person, remembers FFAA’s Hartney, West was particularly blunt about what the industry needed to do to prevent future West, TX, incidents from happening. “He sure didn’t sugarcoat things in talking to FFAA leaders up in Washington, DC, for Capitol Hill visits in May,” she says. “He said: ‘If you can’t afford to be safe and in complete regulatory compliance, you don’t need to be in business.’”

Jean Payne, president of the Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association (IFCA), had a similar experience with West at the industry meeting on the ResponsibleAg stewardship initiative formed in the wake of the accident at West, TX. “In outlining this effort, Ford said simply, ‘Guys, look – in this effort, we cannot fail,’” says Payne. “Of everything else said at that meeting, that was the crux of it.”

From Food To Fertilizer

Part of West’s ability to “cut to the chase” on issues most likely stems from his background. After receiving his Master’s Degree in Food Science from North Carolina State University in the mid-1970s, West moved to the nation’s capital to serve as senior microbiologist for the National Canners Association. “For two years, I spent my days looking at the technical side of the food business, making observations and reporting my findings,” says West.

Then in 1979, a lobbyist friend told West of an opportunity at TFI, working on health and safety issues. Not long after that, West had the chance to move into a more political role at the association. “Even with its technical side, fertilizer is largely a people-oriented industry, and I always thought I had more people skills than benchmark science skills anyway,” says West.

By 2005, when TFI was looking for a new president, West was quickly promoted into this role.

“One of his greatest assets is Ford’s always present sense of humor, backed up by his engaging smile and never-to-forget laugh,” says Jay Vroom, president of CropLife America. “I cannot count the times I’ve witnessed Ford’s ‘aw, shucks,’ personal demeanor disarm audiences and open the door for dialogue that would not have occurred with any other approach. Of course, in an age of 140 character Tweets, endless e-mails and death by PowerPoint, Ford gets by simply by direct conversation, looking folks in the eye, knowing what he’s talking about and clinching with a sincere handshake.”

Counting Accomplishments

In his time at TFI, West has managed to reshape the association’s relationship with the entire industry. For example, when he first took over as president, West launched a campaign to reach out to ag retailers to join TFI by restructuring its dues. “Our dues structure has been based on total fertilizer sales, no matter where members fit into the value chain, and that hasn’t changed since TFI was first formed in 1969,” said West, announcing this change in 2006. “We are changing that so dues will be based on the amount of nutrient tons going through the value system of production, wholesale and retail.”

According to FFAA’s Hartney, dealing with water issues is another area where TFI under West’s leadership has excelled. “Witness the work TFI’s done on water quality regulations, such as EPA’s efforts to impose state numeric nutrient criteria,” she says. “Whether it was in Florida, the Chesapeake Bay or the Mississippi River watershed, Ford made sure TFI led the industry and affected state associations through these rough regulatory waters – even when it meant suing EPA to win science-based solutions.”

Of course, adds Hartney, West could also look beyond his “serious” side when it was called for. “How many fertilizer leaders do you know would willingly and enthusiastically don a gorilla suit to join Nebraska Agri-Business Association board members (also in costume) to entertain members at their annual convention?” she says. “Ford West did!”

A Time To Go

A fixture in the fertilizer industry for the past 33 years, West decided in early January that the 34th year would be his last. “Effective December 2013, I will be retiring from TFI,” started a memo West sent to TFI members earlier this year.

“Fertilizer touches many hands before it arrives in farm fields and TFI provides a forum where fertilizer producers, importers, wholesalers and retailers can share their perspectives on common problems and develop approaches to meet these challenges. I am very proud to have been a part of that process.”

West also thanked his co-workers for making this process easier over the years. “I also want to recognize the dedicated staff at TFI and the Nutrients for Life Foundation,” said the memo. “Any success I have had as president is due to a combined effort of these association professionals working together for the good of the industry.”

In an interview back in 2006, West described how he viewed the fertilizer business and TFI’s role in it. “I prefer to look at the future, not at the past, when it comes to our industry,” he said. And thankfully, from all he’s done over the past three decades of service, the fertilizer industry can continue to keep looking forward while remembering how West’s tenure as TFI president made this possible.

Leave a Reply

Fertilizer Stories

Potash Corp Agrium
Crop InputsAgrium, Potash Corp To Merge To Create $36 Billion Company
September 12, 2016
Canada’s Agrium Inc. and Potash Corp of Saskatchewan Inc. have agreed to combine in a deal that would create a Read More
FertilizerBRANDT Specialty Fertilizers Help Grower Set Soybean Yield Record
September 12, 2016
BRANDT, a leading agriculture retailer and manufacturer of specialty Ag products, has announced that its new proprietary nutrition products were Read More
Corn Field
FertilizerBridging Crop Nutrition Science And Technology
September 7, 2016
The future seemed to draw nearer for the 1,600-plus attendees of the co-located InfoAg and International Precision Agriculture conferences in St. Read More
Fertilizer Bin
FertilizerState Of The Fertilizer Industry Report Highlights Environmental, Social Contributions
September 6, 2016
As consumers, we live in a world with access to more data than we could ever hope to mine through. Read More
Trending Articles
Bayer Monsanto
Crop InputsBayer-Monsanto Mega-Merger: 6 Things You Need To Know
September 14, 2016
Mega mergers have become almost routine in the agricultural industry. Right on the heels of Monday’s news that fertilizer giants Potash Read More
Potash Corp Agrium
Crop InputsAgrium, Potash Corp To Merge To Create $36 Billion Company
September 12, 2016
Canada’s Agrium Inc. and Potash Corp of Saskatchewan Inc. have agreed to combine in a deal that would create a Read More
Osage Co-op Elevator Osage, IA Finished Building
OpinionAre We Crazy?
September 8, 2016
At some point in the first few months of my employment here at CropLife® magazine, I started getting curious about Read More
ManagementMAGIE 2016 Highlights and Deere Anti-Trust
September 1, 2016
CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj discusses the recent Midwest AG Industries Exposition and the Department of Justice’s objection to John Deere Read More
ASMARK 2016 Retailers Live! Tour - CPS
CropLife 100CPS Acquires Texas Retail Operation
August 23, 2016
Crop Production Services (CPS) has acquired the assets of Larry’s Chemical and Spray, Inc., for an undisclosed amount in an Read More
Key Cooperative Marcus Construction Steel Building
Retail FacilitiesMarcus Construction Builds High-Speed Agronomy Center For Key Cooperative
July 7, 2016
Key Cooperative in Grinnell, IA, wanted a state-of-the-art Agronomy Center to better serve its customers. Marcus Construction delivered exactly that. Read More
Latest News
Syngenta Seedcare Institute
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Opens New North America Seedcare Institute In …
September 23, 2016
Syngenta unveiled its new Seedcare Institute in Stanton, MN, during a recent grand opening celebration. More than 150 industry leaders, Read More
StewardshipMonsanto Invests $1.6 Million In System To Quantify Gre…
September 23, 2016
The USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) recently awarded the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and its Soil Health Read More
Pipe rack
LegislationCourt Sides With Ag Retailers On PSM
September 23, 2016
The D.C. Court of Appeals has ruled the Occupational Safety and Health Administration violated the Occupational Safety and Health Act when Read More
ManagementPacific Coast Fertilizer Announces Interest In Longview…
September 22, 2016
Pacific Coast Fertilizer LP (PCF) announced at the Cowlitz Economic Development Council board of directors meeting its interest in developing Read More
Young corn plants in soil
UncategorizedCool Planet Raises Additional $9 Million To Commerciali…
September 22, 2016
Cool Planet has announced the first close of a new financing round to commercialize the company’s Cool Terra Engineered Biocarbon Read More
Crop InputsJim Loar Promoted To President And CEO Of Cool Planet
September 22, 2016
In a move that reflects and reinforces the company’s commitment to the agricultural market, the Cool Planet board of directors Read More
BlendersNorth Dakota Coop Debuts Dry Fertilizer Plant
September 22, 2016
North Central Grain Cooperative has begun operations at a new dry fertilizer plant at its Rolla, ND, site. It is Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto, Bayer Officials Defend Proposed $66 Billion M…
September 21, 2016
Top officials for Monsanto and Bayer defended their proposed $66 billion merger before skeptical senators on Tuesday, insisting that the Read More
ManagementUpcoming Shows & Recent Events
September 19, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about upcoming trade shows and events and review the Mid America CropLife Association Read More
Industry NewsVerdesian Life Sciences Appoints New CEO
September 19, 2016
Verdesian Life Sciences, a plant health and nutrition company, today announced that its board of directors has named Kenneth M. Avery Read More
Corn
Crop InputsEPA Settles With Syngenta For Alleged Multi-Regional Pe…
September 19, 2016
The U.S. EPA has announced a multi-region settlement with Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC (Syngenta) in Greensboro, NC, for alleged violations of Read More
ManagementMerger Mania
September 16, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss this week’s mega-ag mergers of Bayer and Monsanto and Potash and Agrium. Read More
Monsanto sign
Crop InputsMonsanto Ends Up Being A Bargain For Bayer
September 16, 2016
History will say Bayer got a bargain in its $66 billion purchase of Monsanto, writes David Nicklaus, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Read More
Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
CropLife 100California Ag Retailer Steps Up To Feed Families Affect…
September 16, 2016
GAR Tootelian, Inc. (GAR) in Reedley, CA, is challenging the Central Valley to help raise enough money and provide 525,000 meals Read More
Crop InputsBayer, Monsanto CEOs Discuss Merger
September 15, 2016
Werner Baumann, Bayer CEO, and Hugh Grant, Monsanto CEO, discuss why they decided to merge their companies. Read More
Corn close up
Crop InputsNY Times: Bayer-Monsanto a Bad Deal for Farmers
September 15, 2016
Via NY Times: Don Halcomb, a 63-year-old farmer in Adairville, KY, is expecting his profit to vanish this year, largely Read More
Werner Baumann, Bayer AG, and Hugh Grant, Monsanto
Crop InputsBayer-Monsanto Merger Creates New Global Ag Giant
September 14, 2016
During the whole of 2016, many of the companies that do business in the agricultural industry have concluded the best Read More
Bayer Monsanto
Crop InputsBayer-Monsanto Mega-Merger: 6 Things You Need To Know
September 14, 2016
Mega mergers have become almost routine in the agricultural industry. Right on the heels of Monday’s news that fertilizer giants Potash Read More