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

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
FertilizerOSHA Hammers West Fertilizer With Over $100K In Fines For April Explosion
October 10, 2013
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is fining the parent company of the West Fertilizer plant, Adair Grain Inc., $118,300 for 24 violations. Read More
FertilizerTFI Appeals Chesapeake Bay TMDL Ruling
October 10, 2013
The Fertilizer Institute joined a coalition appealing a U.S. District Court ruling on the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for nitrogen and phosphorus. Read More

Trending Articles

Retail FacilitiesWaconia Manufacturing Builds Facility Designed For Speed, Efficiency
July 7, 2014
To make its new hub facility more efficient, Cooperative Elevator enlisted the aid of Waconia Manufacturing. Read More
EquipmentSummer Show Preview 2014: Superior Sprayers Take The Field
July 3, 2014
In this final installment of our coverage of the major categories of Big IRON that retailers can expect to test-drive at this summer’s events, here is a look at 19 sprayers. Read More
Scouting a soybean patch at Green Valley Ag.
EmployeesCropLife Compensation Survey: Battling Talent Drain
July 2, 2014
Retailers too often lose employees to companies outside of agriculture, while recruiting efforts are most often limited to competitors and other ag-focused organizations. Read More
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences Introduces SureStart II Herbicide
June 16, 2014
The enhanced formulation has improved viscosity and increased stability under heat and controls more than 60 high-anxiety grasses and broadleaf weeds found in corn fields. Read More
HerbicidesBASF Investing $270 Million To Expand U.S. Herbicide Production
June 11, 2014
BASF has invested more than $270 million to expand herbicide production capacities in the U.S., including more than 20 new products to be launched over next two years. Read More
EquipmentGPS: 25 Years And Still Growing
June 2, 2014
The evolution of global positioning systems applications in agriculture remains ongoing as the technology hits a notable milestone. Read More

Latest News

ManagementASA, FarmLink To Launch ‘Operation Benchmark̵…
July 25, 2014
The American Soybean Association (ASA) and FarmLink are teaming up to help farmers close the $11 billion gap between what they harvested in 2013 and what they could harvest annually. Read More
StewardshipNorthey: Farmers Commit $1.4 Million to Try New Water Q…
July 25, 2014
The practices that are eligible for funding include cover crops, no-till or strip till and using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer. Read More
Precision AgFarmers Learn How Changing World Will Impact Iowa
July 24, 2014
Technology and understanding global consumer demand for Iowa farm products brought hundreds of farmers and agribusiness leaders to Ames recently for the annual Iowa Farm Bureau Federation Economic Summit. Read More
HerbicidesPurdue: Late Season Weeds May Require Manual Removal
July 24, 2014
Hand-rouging and pulling late season weeds by hand may be the best way to remove them, more so than using a herbicide, a Purdue Extension weed scientist says. Read More
Soybean Field
InsecticidesTransform WG, Closer SC Insecticides Receive R&D 10…
July 23, 2014
Dow AgroSciences has received the award from R&D Magazine for Transform WG insecticide and Closer SC insecticide with Isoclast active. Read More
EquipmentKinze, Raven Team Up On 4900 Planter Monitor
July 23, 2014
Kinze Manufacturing announces a partnership with Raven Industries to develop a standalone monitor solution for the Kinze 4900 series planter. With this new Read More
LegislationNew Farm Bill Continues To Confuse As Growers Await USD…
July 23, 2014
The new five-year Farm Bill eliminates many of the direct payments previously payed to growers and could benefit from USDA clarification, reports a Toledo Blade columnist. Read More
EquipmentPrecisionAg.com Relaunches With Responsive Design For M…
July 22, 2014
PrecisionAg, the worldwide leader in precision agriculture information and analysis, announces the launch of its completely redesigned website, PrecisionAg.com. Read More
FungicidesEPA OKs Two Willowood Fungicides
July 21, 2014
The EPA has approved Willowood Azoxy 2SC and Willowood AzoxyProp Xtra. two widely used broad spectrum, preventative fungicides with systemic and curative properties. Read More
Precision AgFarmers Learning Fast As UAVs Take Off
July 17, 2014
Farmers and others interested in how UAVs can be used in agricultural applications were able to learn more about the technology during the recent Precision Aerial Ag Show. Read More
CropLife 100Bobby Knight, Richard Petty To Highlight Ag PhD Field D…
July 17, 2014
Attendees at the July 24 Ag PhD Field Day at Hefty Farms will learn about the latest agricultural technologies, and get a chance to meet legendary sports figures Bobby Knight and Richard Petty. Read More
WebinarsUpcoming Webinars
July 17, 2014
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
A finished Willmar 16-ton side-shooting tender.
TendersNew Production Facility Helps Willmar
July 17, 2014
In 1963, a group of businessmen started Willmar. Today, a half-century later, the company is one of the ag industry’s longest-running brands. Read More
FertilizerCF Industries Sells Carbon Credits To Chevrolet, Donate…
July 17, 2014
CF Industries has completed the sale of a large block of carbon reduction credits to Chevrolet, and will donate the net proceeds of $600,000 to the National FFA Foundation. Read More
CropLife 100Grainland Cooperative, Minier Cooperative Grain To Merg…
July 17, 2014
The shareholders of Grainland Cooperative and Minier Cooperative Grain Co. approved a merger of company operations effective August 1, 2014. Read More
ManagementStudy: Drought Costing California Billions
July 17, 2014
A new study has found the drought has cost the state $2.2 billion, primarily in lost farm revenue and wages. Read More
FertilizerCF Industries Resumes Production At Oklahoma Nitrogen C…
July 17, 2014
The company had shut down production at the Woodward, OK, facility in April to address an issue in one of the site’s boilers. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis To Relocate Agribusiness Division To Denve…
July 16, 2014
The move Eastward will allow Wilbur-Ellis’ Agribusiness Division to be more accessible to relevant geographies and is expected to enhance communication and collaboration among the division’s nearly 3,000 employees. Read More