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
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Acquires Minnesota Retailer
April 14, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC, ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100,  has successfully acquired Liebl Ag, LLC in Ada, MN.  Read More
CropLife 100CHS, Aurora Cooperative Complete Fertilizer Storage, Grain Shuttle Loading Facility
April 13, 2015
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading cooperative and ranked No. 5 on the CropLife 100, and Aurora Cooperative (ranked No. 21) Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Acquires Missouri Refined Fuels Terminal
April 2, 2015
Bloomington, IL-based GROWMARK and Magellan Pipeline Co. have entered into an agreement in which GROWMARK will acquire the refined fuels Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Acquires South Dakota Retailer
April 2, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Co.’s Agribusiness Division, a recognized leader in precision agriculture technology and the distribution and marketing of plant protection, seed Read More
CropLife 100The McGregor Co. Closes Smith-Kem Acquisition
April 2, 2015
The McGregor Co. — ranked No. 16 on the CropLife 100 list of largest U.S. ag retailers — has completed Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Commemorates National Ag Day
March 20, 2015
The Illinois agriculture community gathered at BRANDT global headquarters on March 18 to celebrate National Ag Day behind this year's theme Sustaining Future Generations. Read More
Latest News
Industry NewsCHS Insurance Names New Director Of Sales
April 17, 2015
Bryan Lewis has been named director of sales for CHS Insurance, the nation’s largest agribusiness insurance broker and full-service insurance Read More
Mature Waterhemp in Corn
HerbicidesGenetic Literacy Project: There’s No Such Thing A…
April 17, 2015
Read the latest “analysis” on GMOs from Consumer Reports and you’ll “learn” that glyphosate, the chemical developed by Monsanto (its Read More
HerbicidesNew Resistance To 2,4-D Discovered In Australia
April 17, 2015
In a world-first case of herbicide resistance, researchers have confirmed that sowthistle weed in the south east of South Australia Read More
ManagementNews From RTP Company Visits and Growers Buying Older S…
April 16, 2015
Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss recent trips to the Research Triangle Park area and market seed sales trends. Read More
soybean field
StewardshipNew ASABE Standard Establishes Framework For Sustainabl…
April 16, 2015
The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) has initiated a project to develop a new standard to establish Read More
MicronutrientsSouthern States: An Inside Look At Our Tissue Sampling …
April 15, 2015
Remember learning about the food pyramid in school? The nutritional diagram recommends the proper amount of nutrients you need on Read More
Industry NewsArysta Adds New U.S. Fungicides Marketing Manager
April 15, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America recently hired Deneen Sebastian as its Marketing Manager for U.S. Row Crops, Fungicides. Most recently, Sebastian Read More
FungicidesVerdesian Launches Phosphite-Based Cereal Fungicide
April 14, 2015
A new, phosphite-based fungicide designed for improved suppression of deoxynivalenol (DON) in wheat and barley infected by Fusarium head blight Read More
Mature Waterhemp in Corn
HerbicidesSURVEY: Close To 90% Of Growers Battle Weed Resistance
April 14, 2015
Herbicide resistance management continues to be a priority for corn and soybean growers, and they’re working together more effectively to Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Acquires Minnesota Retailer
April 14, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC, ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100,  has successfully acquired Liebl Ag, LLC in Ada, MN.  Read More
StewardshipFMC Corp. Joins Sustainable Agriculture Alliance
April 14, 2015
FMC Corp. has joined Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, a multi-stakeholder initiative working to define, measure and Read More
Industry NewsArysta Adds Two To Goëmar Sales Team
April 14, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America recently announced two new additions to the Goëmar sales team: Steve Kelly, Technical Service Manager – Read More
Valley Variable Rate Irrigation
Precision AgVariable Rate Irrigation Gains Followers
April 14, 2015
Irrigation systems have had the ability to apply different amounts of water throughout a field for decades, using timers that Read More
CropLife 100CHS, Aurora Cooperative Complete Fertilizer Storage, Gr…
April 13, 2015
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading cooperative and ranked No. 5 on the CropLife 100, and Aurora Cooperative (ranked No. 21) Read More
Soybean field
Industry NewsThree Ag Co-ops Poised For Possible Merger
April 13, 2015
Following months of study and preparations, the Board of Directors for United Farmers Coop (UFC), Farmers Elevator Cooperative (FEC) and Read More
Eric SfiligojAgriculture Braces For More Belt-Tightening
April 13, 2015
Spring is in full bloom across the U.S. and ag retailers and their grower-customers are busily getting into high gear. Read More
ManagementPollinator Health and Washington, DC
April 9, 2015
CropLife America’s Kellie Bray speaks with CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj regarding bee health and proposed Beltway regulations. Read More
InsecticidesValent Takes On MGK Insecticide Portfolio
April 9, 2015
As of April 1, Valent U.S.A. Corp. became the exclusive provider of the MGK crop protection line of insect control Read More