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

FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
Aerial view of the West Fertilizer explosion site
FertilizerFertilizer Companies Blame City For West, TX, Explosion
August 6, 2014
El Dorado Chemical Co. and CF Industries contend the city failed to properly train the first responders and had insufficient protocols in place to battle the April 17, 2013, blaze at West Fertilizer Co. that triggered the explosion. Read More
FertilizerThe Fertilizer Institute: New President, Renewed Energy
February 3, 2014
Chris Jahn relishes the opportunity to lead the organization through the challenging times ahead. Read More
FertilizerA New Cycle For Fertilizer Demand
January 2, 2014
Changes in the corn market could have a major impact on the crop nutrients sector in 2014, say experts. Read More

Trending Articles

HerbicidesAdjusting To The New Reality Of Weed Control
November 4, 2014
Even with new cropping systems being readied for market introductions, weed control will remain a challenge for many. Read More
StewardshipResponsibleAg Begins Auditor Training
October 31, 2014
ResponsibleAg auditor training is now underway at the Ford B. West Center for Responsible Agriculture in Owensboro, KY. Read More
InsecticidesNew Research Study Shows The Value Of Neonics
October 29, 2014
The study evaluated seed treatment, soil and foliar uses of neonicotinoid insecticides in the U.S. and Canada. Read More
Crop InputsPlatform Specialty Products To Acquire Arysta LifeScience
October 20, 2014
Once the acquisition is complete, Platform Specialty Products will combine Arysta LifeScience with previously acquired companies Agriphar and Chemtura Crop Solutions. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Offers New Support For Ferguson, Area Communities
October 8, 2014
Monsanto Co. has committed $1 million in new support for several collaborative efforts in Ferguson, MO, and surrounding communities in North St. Louis County. Read More
Seed/BiotechUnapproved Genetically Modified Wheat Found In Montana
October 3, 2014
USDA reports that one year after discovery of Monsanto's unapproved wheat in a single Oregon field disrupted U.S. wheat export sales, the GMO wheat has again been found in Montana. Read More

Latest News

soybean field
Crop InputsABM Patents Microbial R&D Technique
November 25, 2014
Focused Microbial Diversity (FMD) is a newly patented technique employed by Advanced Biological Marketing (ABM) to research and develop microbials that will be used in ABM products Read More
Crop InputsStorage Options Help Grain Growers Go To Market
November 24, 2014
While on-farm storage in a traditional upright storage bin is one possibility for storing grain, it may not be for everyone. Read More
Eric SfiligojGiving Thanks For Another Great Year
November 24, 2014
As Thanksgiving Day 2014 arrives, agriculture has plenty to be thankful for. Read More
Crop InputsSyngenta Cost-Cutting Program To Affect 1,800 Jobs
November 24, 2014
The company's Accelerating Operational Leverage program will result in job reductions and relocations totaling around 1,800 across the company, the majority of which will occur in 2015. Read More
EquipmentAGCO Announces Operator Of The Year Finalists
November 20, 2014
Four custom applicators have been selected by AGCO Application Equipment as finalists for 2014 Operator of the Year, an honor that recognizes them as being among the top professionals in their industry throughout North America. Read More
MicronutrientsH.J. Baker Expands Tiger-Sul Business
November 20, 2014
H.J. Baker has created and filled two strategic positions in business development and sales within its Crop Performance Division. Read More
soybean field
FertilizerGeneral Mills Honors United Suppliers For Nitrogen Opti…
November 19, 2014
United Suppliers winning proposal detailed SUSTAIN, a consulting network that provides customized products and services for farmers using a needs-based system approach. Read More
EmployeesOhio AgriBusiness Association Awards $25,000 In Scholar…
November 19, 2014
Each year, the Ohio AgriBusiness Association Educational Trust scholarship program awards scholarship dollars to students enrolled in an agriculture-related field attending several state colleges. Read More
ManagementServi-Tech Names New CEO
November 17, 2014
Servi-Tech has named Greg Ruehle its new president and CEO. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Ag Acquires Colorado Aerial Application Outlet
November 17, 2014
Ft. Lupton, CO-based Reck Aviation — a full-service chemical application company providing aerial crop applications of fertilizers and crop protection products — will operate as part of Pinnacle's AgOne Application Services brand. Read More
Eric SfiligojMcDonald’s Message: Biotech Crops Scarier Than Cancer
November 17, 2014
Despite their potential health benefits, one of the world’s largest potato users will pass on a new biotech offering. Read More
MicronutrientsWinField Releases 2014 NutriSolutions Results
November 14, 2014
A number of significant regional and national crop deficiency trends emerged from the 2014 WinField NutriSolutions tissue sampling program. Read More
FertilizerH.J. Baker Opens Chinese Production Lines
November 14, 2014
The occasion was the official launch of the Tiger-Sul sulphur Bentonite production line of two much anticipated fertilizer products in China, T90CR sulphur fertilizer and TZinc micronutrient enhanced sulphur fertilizer. Read More
ManagementOhio Certified Crop Adviser Program Accepting Nominatio…
November 14, 2014
The award recognizes an individual who delivers exceptional customer service for farmer clients in nutrient management, soil and water management, integrated pest management and crop production in Ohio. Read More
HerbicidesSyngenta Announces Acuron Trial Plot Results
November 14, 2014
Acuron was tested at 167 trial locations across 35 states. Trials included 95 Syngenta locations, 54 university locations and 18 distributor locations. Read More
Crop InputsVerdesian Expands Sales Force
November 13, 2014
The new sales representatives will work with growers, retail partners and distributors to oversee technical training and product education. Read More
EquipmentAGCO Raises $100K For Wounded Warrior Project
November 13, 2014
AGCO Corp. partnered with local AGCO dealers across the U.S. and Canada to raise nearly $100,000 in support of wounded service veterans. Read More
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences Announces Launch Of Enlist Duo Herbici…
November 12, 2014
It will be launched in conjunction with a stewarded introduction of Enlist corn, and seed production of Enlist soybeans in 2015. Read More