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

Flooded corn in Indiana
FertilizerBoth Wet and Dry Conditions Threaten Nitrogen Loss
May 15, 2017
The weather is notoriously unpredictable, leading to challenges for planting, harvesting and applying the nitrogen (N) your corn crop needs. Read More
Iowa waterways
FertilizerDow AgroSciences Recognizes Ag Retailers’ Role in Protecting Iowa Water Quality
April 6, 2017
The state of Iowa and its agriculture community have worked for decades to preserve soil health, protect water quality and Read More
Yara West Sacramento Ribbon Cutting
Crop InputsYara West Sacramento Is Newest Addition
March 27, 2017
Yara’s West Sacramento Terminal was officially welcomed March 21 as the newest Yara North America facility in the U.S. While continually Read More
Nutrients for Life Foundation Teacher
FertilizerNutrients For Life Foundation Celebrates 10 Years Teaching Fertilizer Education
March 23, 2017
Those in agriculture know fertilizer is a vital ingredient to grow strong, productive crops. In fact, fertilizer is responsible for Read More
Trending Articles
Migrant farm workers
LegislationTrump: Immigration Crackdown Won’t Impact U.S. Agriculture
May 16, 2017
President Donald Trump said he would seek to keep his tough immigration enforcement policies from harming the U.S. farm industry Read More
AGCO Ratliff featured
Eric SfiligojRemembering Robert Ratliff
May 15, 2017
With all the fast-paced happenings in agriculture this spring, with multiple mergers in the works and planting season in full Read More
Case sprayer nozzle closeup
EquipmentSpray Application: A Nozzle Renaissance
May 2, 2017
If you had asked four-decade ag veteran Mark Bartel, President of Wilger Inc., just a few years ago what lay Read More
ManagementWashington Update, Dow-DuPont Earnings, and the Passing of an AGCO Legend
April 27, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about the latest Beltway news, crop protection company 1st quarter numbers, and the Read More
Crop InputsFlying Under the Radar No More, FMC Goes Big
April 13, 2017
Describing FMC as “under the radar,” admittedly, is probably a stretch. But in a snap of the fingers, FMC upped Read More
Young Corn Plants
Crop NutritionStill Hunting Yields
April 1, 2017
There’s no denying it — the agricultural marketplace today is undergoing a fundamental shift in fortunes. Not too many years Read More
Latest News
ManagementTrip Report, PSM R.I.P, and Ag’s Reaction to Federal Bu…
May 25, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about their recent travels, the end for Process Safety Management (PSM), and how Read More
Corn soil
LegislationARA Member Testifies Before Senate Ag Committee
May 25, 2017
Agricultural retailers stand on the front-lines of the American economy. As trusted advisors to America’s farmers, ag retailers are uniquely Read More
Young corn plants in soil
Crop InputsFortenza Insecticide Seed Treatment Receives EPA Regist…
May 25, 2017
Fortenza seed treatment insecticide from Syngenta has received registration approval from the U.S. EPA for use on corn and cotton Read More
ManagementFarm Market iD’s Agriculture Database Now Covers More T…
May 25, 2017
Farm Market iD, farmmarketid.com, has announced the release of its 2017 Annual Update of its farm and land database. The Read More
Food IT Fork-to-Farm
Precision AgThe Mixing Bowl Event Connects Technology, Food, and Ag…
May 24, 2017
For the fourth consecutive year, The Mixing Bowl presents FOOD IT, under the theme “Fork to Farm.” Action-oriented entrepreneurs, industry Read More
Photo credit: The United Soybean Board/The Soybean Checkoff.
Seed/BiotechKansas State University Researchers Find New Pathogens …
May 24, 2017
A single seed seems so simple. Put it in the ground, give it some care, and you’ve soon grown food. Read More
Soybean Field
HerbicidesNew Dicamba Herbicide Premix Coming Soon from Syngenta
May 24, 2017
Syngenta has announced the name of its new herbicide featuring the active ingredients of S-metolachlor and dicamba. Upon registration by Read More
Eric SfiligojMonsanto ‘Picks Its Battles’ by Nixing Deere Deal
May 23, 2017
Having been in the trade journalism game since the mid-1980s, I remember several watershed moments during my career. One of Read More
FungicidesSyngenta Launches New Seed Treatment Fungicide
May 22, 2017
Syngenta has announced the launch of PLENARIS seed treatment fungicide for the control of downy mildew in sunflower. PLENARIS contains Read More
Corn close up
Crop InputsMonsanto’s First HPPD Herbicide Garners EPA Appro…
May 19, 2017
Monsanto announced today that EPA has federally approved Harness MAX Herbicide, the first herbicide in the Monsanto portfolio to provide Read More
ManagementPrecision Planting Deal, China Developments, and Enviro…
May 18, 2017
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Dan Jacobs discuss the latest news on John Deere’s now dead deal for Precision Planting, China’s Read More
Soybean aphid leaf
InsecticidesMulti-state Research Reveals IPM Best Option for Treatm…
May 17, 2017
About 89.5 million acres of soybeans will be planted across the U.S. in 2017 — a record high, according to Read More
GROWMARK-2017-Interns
CropLife 100GROWMARK Names 2017 Summer Interns
May 16, 2017
Forty-two college students are exploring agricultural career opportunities this summer as GROWMARK interns. They are working at FS member cooperatives Read More
Migrant farm workers
LegislationTrump: Immigration Crackdown Won’t Impact U.S. Ag…
May 16, 2017
President Donald Trump said he would seek to keep his tough immigration enforcement policies from harming the U.S. farm industry Read More
Flooded corn in Indiana
FertilizerBoth Wet and Dry Conditions Threaten Nitrogen Loss
May 15, 2017
The weather is notoriously unpredictable, leading to challenges for planting, harvesting and applying the nitrogen (N) your corn crop needs. Read More
farmer Kip Tom
Precision AgAg Tech: On the Cusp of Something Big?
May 15, 2017
The investment and ag-tech sectors’ continuing courtship of agriculture, smoldering for three or four years now, was well in evidence at Read More
AGCO Ratliff featured
Eric SfiligojRemembering Robert Ratliff
May 15, 2017
With all the fast-paced happenings in agriculture this spring, with multiple mergers in the works and planting season in full Read More
Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
ManagementOpinion: Shaking Your Perspective in Ag Retail
May 12, 2017
Some of you I’m sure have encountered our recently retired salesman extraordinaire, Dan Bellanger. He worked in the industry for Read More