Remembering The Fertilizer Institute’s Edwin Wheeler

Edwin M. Wheeler, who headed The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) from 1968-1983, died February 18 in Sarasota, FL. He was 83 years old. Wheeler, a lawyer by trade and a gifted lobbyist, was a colorful — and sometimes controversial — leader, who once chided his members heading off to the golf course during a TFI meeting at The Greenbrier in the mid-1970s during a period of fertilizer shortages to “put away the golf clubs and get into the task of massive production of fertilizer.”

Wheeler brought a knowledge of transportation and the Washington scene. As assistant to the president of the Santa Fe Railroad, he coordinated state and federal legislative activities. Outgoing President Paul Truitt said in introducing Wheeler: “If you don’t recognize the name or the face, don’t be surprised. Wheeler is not a fertilizer man; in fact, he comes to the job without any knowledge or prejudices. What he does have is a strong background in legislative affairs, experience as assistant to the president of one of the country’s leading railroads, and a reputation as a man who gets things done.”

Another industry leader called Wheeler “a quick study who can digest large amounts of information and penetrate the surface and superficial aspects and get to the heart of the matter. He has an analytical mind and can speedily offer new perspectives and new approaches to the problem.”

Wheeler grew up on a 400-acre farm in Marion, KS. His father was a farmer-lawyer. Wheeler followed in his footsteps, receiving his law degree in 1955 after serving four years in the Army during the Korean War.

He was a strong supporter of agriculture and encouraged TFI to take a more active role in solving challenges facing their farmer customers. He accused agribusiness “of sitting on its hands, clucking its collective tongues about the farmer’s plight . . . and letting government come up with attempts at solutions. Agribusiness has been too busy selling products to the farmer to take the time to sell the farmer to the public.”

He broadened the activities of TFI, increasing liaison work with university research in soil testing and pollution, focusing primarily on nitrates and reorganized the association, establishing what he termed “meaningful committees.” He also looked beyond the domestic market, organizing TFI’s first World Fertilizer Conference, still one of the association’s major events each year.

A Great Communicator

But his greatest strength was as a communicator. He was in his element talking to reporters, enjoyed the give-and-take in interviews. And nobody, but nobody was a better interview than Wheeler. He could always be counted on for a colorful phrase or two or three. One that was often quoted was something about the margins on fertilizer being “as thin as a bride’s nightie.” 

But while the press delighted in Wheeler’s directness, his members became disenchanted with his chastisements  to “get out and sell” and fearless forecasts for the years ahead. During his tenure the industry went through periods of overdemand/undersupply to oversupply/underdemand.

From the podium at his last annual meeting as president, Wheeler told his members: “Don’t panic! Fear and panic won’t get the job done. Don’t anticipate any major turnaround in 1983. Until commodity prices change we must produce for demand. And by all means, don’t bad-mouth your industry.”

Six months later, he was asked to resign.

His reign as TFI president was often turbulent, but he should be credited for successfully leading the merger of the National Plant Food Institute and the Agricultural Nitrogen Institute in 1969 to form TFI, which remains a vital voice for the fertilizer industry.

Leave a Reply

Fertilizer Stories

Corn Field
FertilizerProtect Applied Manure Straight From the Manure Pit to the Field
August 10, 2017
Farmers who use liquid manure to fertilize corn crops can now mix Instinct nitrogen stabilizer in their pit for easy Read More
Corn-Irrigation
Crop InputsNitrogen: Why More Later May Be Better
August 2, 2017
The fact that new corn hybrids require an ever-increasing yield potential, and therefore a growing appetite for nitrogen and other Read More
Darin Lickfeldt Verdesian In Field
Crop InputsVerdesian: Sustainability Goes Hand in Hand with Profits
July 25, 2017
Sustainability is a hot topic in agriculture these days. And while measuring sustainability and its on-farm impact can seem difficult Read More
Soil soybean closeup
FertilizerThe 4Rs and Potassium
July 17, 2017
Are we meeting crop K needs? Using the 4R nutrient stewardship approach of selecting the right source at the right Read More
Trending Articles
Iowa waterways
Stewardship2,600 Iowa Farmers Commit $8.7 Million to Water Quality Practices
August 9, 2017
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced Tuesday that a record number of Iowa farmers signed up to install nutrient Read More
Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
CropLife 100Cause of Gar Tootelian Fire Under Investigation
August 7, 2017
Over one hundred firefighters and equipment responded to a four-alarm shop fire at the Gar Tootelian, Inc. (GAR) facility in Read More
Rob Versprille
ManagementCeres Solutions, North Central Co-op Merger to Bring New Opportunities for Indiana, Michigan Farmers
August 1, 2017
More than 40,000 customers and almost 9,000 Indiana and Michigan farmers will begin doing business with the new Ceres Solutions Read More
CPS-Norwood-and-Dupont-reps
Eric SfiligojA Message to Ag Retailers: Do Tell Your Good Stories
July 26, 2017
As the daughter of a peanut farmer, Krysta Harden, Chief Sustainability Officer for DuPont Crop Protection, understands the importance ag Read More
Tim Hassinger Dow AgroSciences President and CEO
Crop InputsDow’s Tim Hassinger Named President, CEO of Lindsay Corp.
July 24, 2017
Lindsay Corp. has  announced the appointment of Timothy Hassinger as president and CEO and a member of its board of Read More
Stewardship‘Gonna Fly Now’ with Environmental Respect
July 20, 2017
One of the most memorable moments in movie history occurred in the Academy Award-winning 1976 film “Rocky.” Haven gotten his Read More
Latest News
RoGator RG1300B AGCO
EquipmentAGCO Opens Nominations for 12th Annual Operator of the …
August 18, 2017
AGCO Corp. has announced the opening of nominations for AGCO Application Equipment’s 12th Annual Operator of the Year. The award Read More
ManagementTravels, Mergers, and CropLife 100 Updates
August 18, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss recent trips they’ve taken, the latest news on market consolidation, and the 2017 Read More
Corn Seed
Seed/BiotechSeed Innovations Benefit All of the Seed Industry
August 17, 2017
Innovations from throughout the seed industry help address many of the economic, environmental and health issues we face as a Read More
SpreadersGVM to Introduce New Prowler at MAGIE
August 17, 2017
The newest Prowler in GVM’s line-up will be introduced next week at the Midwest Ag Industries Expo (MAGIE), August 23 Read More
AcreEdge bag
Seed/BiotechLandus Cooperative’s AcreEdge Seed Brand Gears Up for 2…
August 17, 2017
Growers in more than 26 Iowa and Minnesota counties are seeing field signs with a new brand name at end Read More
Engenia soybeans
ManagementCorn and Soybean Yield Forecasts Larger than Expected
August 17, 2017
The USDA’s August Crop Production report contained larger-than-expected forecasts for the 2017 U.S. corn and soybean crops. At 169.5 bushels Read More
ManagementU.S. Ag Secretary Introduces SCORE
August 17, 2017
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue signed a new agreement to support new and beginning farmers. On August 5, Perdue joined Read More
CHS-FFA-Minnesota
CropLife 100CHS and FFA: A Homerun Partnership
August 17, 2017
CHS hosted the Minnesota FFA for its annual FFA night at CHS Field. FFA students, educators and CHS leadership enjoyed Read More
Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
CropLife 100Gar Tootelian Foundation Donates Half Million Dollars t…
August 16, 2017
Students at Immanuel Elementary are looking forward to the first day of school for two reasons this year. One, they Read More
Water Drainage
StewardshipNew System Could Remove Two Water Pollutants from Ag Fi…
August 14, 2017
Algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico use up the majority of the oxygen in the water, leading to massive Read More
Eric SfiligojThe Top 10 Crop Protection Companies, Post-Mega Mergers
August 14, 2017
Everyone loves a good Top 10 list. In fact, some prominent celebrities such as David Letterman spent much of their Read More
ManagementThe DuPont-Granular Deal, Dicamba Update, and Upcoming …
August 11, 2017
Matthew Grassi joins Paul Schrimpf for the second week in a row to talk about DuPont’s acquisition of Granular, as Read More
Soybeans weeds
HerbicidesOngoing Evaluation Key to Controlling Weeds, Improving …
August 10, 2017
As the sun bears down on record U.S. soybean acres this August, farmers keep their eyes on their fields to Read More
Young Corn Plants
Seed/BiotechMycogen Seeds Offers Novel Product to Battle Pythium, O…
August 10, 2017
After a season plagued by seedling diseases caused by cool, wet soils at planting, farmers have a new option to Read More
Corn Field
FertilizerProtect Applied Manure Straight From the Manure Pit to …
August 10, 2017
Farmers who use liquid manure to fertilize corn crops can now mix Instinct nitrogen stabilizer in their pit for easy Read More
Iowa waterways
Stewardship2,600 Iowa Farmers Commit $8.7 Million to Water Quality…
August 9, 2017
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced Tuesday that a record number of Iowa farmers signed up to install nutrient Read More
Natives-First-Purple_Prairie_Clover
Seed/BiotechLa Crosse Seed Continues Focus on Soil and Water Conser…
August 9, 2017
La Crosse Seed is doing its part to lead communication to ag retailers across the country on the importance of Read More
HerbicidesAg Secretary Perdue Comments on Dicamba Issue
August 9, 2017
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue indicated to reporters this week that he would like to see the industry work out a Read More