Fertilizer Industry At A Crossroads Once More

There’s an age-old proverb that looks at many of life’s biggest decisions as a series of forked paths. It’s up to the traveler to choose which road will be taken, thereby setting in motion a whole course of events.

In my 13 years of covering the ag retail marketplace, I witnessed many such crossroad events such as the StarLink biotech incident of the early 2000s and the widespread acceptance of smartphones to perform many agronomic operations.

But now, it seems that the industry is at another fork in the road. This one involves ag retailers that sell fertilizer and how (or if) they handle ammonium nitrate in the future.

By now, most everyone in the ag retail business is aware of what happened at the West Fertilizer Co. facility back on April 17. A fire at this plant resulted in an explosion that killed 14 people, injured more than 200 and destroyed a good portion of the town of West, TX, in the process. At presstime, investigators were still uncertain what caused the explosion, but most of the circumstantial evidence points to the more than 200 tons of ammonium nitrate the company had on hand as the culprit.

As many industry experts have pointed out since the West Fertilizer tragedy, ammonium nitrate is generally safe when handled and stored properly. However, it can become explosive when exposed to some kind of accelerant such as propane or fuel oil, which easily could have been the case in this particular plant fire.

Naturally since this event occurred, CropLife® magazine has received many e-mails commenting on the West Fertilizer situation. The vast majority of these have pointed out all the shortcomings of the plant’s owners in filing proper safety paperwork with regulators as part of the problem (since many of these documents indicated non-explosive anhydrous ammonia, not ammonium nitrate was at the plant).

But there seems to be a crossroads feel to many of these notes. Some have openly called for agriculture to drop the use of ammonium nitrate altogether. “I do not think as an industry we can risk ammonium nitrate anymore,” wrote one e-mailer.

Still, another e-mailer pointed out that ammonium nitrate remains a vital fertilizer in many parts of the country where soil conditions are poor. “There is no substitute in agriculture for ammonium nitrate, particularly for pastures and hayfields,” wrote Mark Egan of Black Prairie Agriculture.

In response to these opposing e-mails, our e-newsletter recently asked readers if agriculture should drop ammonium nitrate. Somewhat surprisingly, the percentages were nearly identical, with 43% saying ammonium nitrate should be dropped and another 40% saying no it shouldn’t.

What these results tell me is that the industry is deeply divided over ammonium nitrate at the moment — a definite crossroads event. It will be interesting to see which path ag retailers ultimately take once the dust settles a little bit more in West, TX.   

Leave a Reply

Eric Sfiligoj Stories

Eric SfiligojWar And Green Peace
October 11, 2014
A one-time member of Green Peace recently explained why he left the organization after 15 years. Read More
Eric SfiligojThe Resurgence Of Crop Protection
August 4, 2014
Plenty of new offerings over the next few years should see a rebirth for the crop protection products category in terms of market share. Read More
Eric SfiligojA Whole New Precision Ag World
June 2, 2014
Excitement and technology developments could make 2014 a year to remember for precision ag. Read More
Eric SfiligojOngoing State Biotech Crop Labeling Laws Could Receive Federal Stop Sign
May 19, 2014
Proposed legislation in Congress might prevent states from passing biotech crop labeling laws. Read More

Trending Articles

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
Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
The deadline to vote for the 2014 CropLife IRON Product of the Year is October 31. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
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
CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More

Latest News

CropLife 100ValueAct Buys Stake In Fertilizer Dealer Agrium
October 30, 2014
ValueAct has bought 8.2 million shares in Calgary, Alberta-based Agrium, making them the second largest investor in the fertilizer dealer. 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
StewardshipUSDA To Provide $4 Million For Honey Bee Habitat
October 29, 2014
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that more than $4 million in technical and financial assistance will be provided to Read More
Crop InputsValent Launches New Low VOC ProGibb LV Plus Plant Growt…
October 29, 2014
ProGibb LV Plus PGR is a high-potency, liquid gibberellic acid formulation designed to comply with California’s new air quality standards for high volatile organic compound agricultural products. Read More
Crop InputsBayer CropScience Acquires Certain DuPont Crop Protecti…
October 29, 2014
Bayer CropScience and DuPont Crop Protection have signed an agreement for Bayer to purchase certain DuPont Crop Protection Land Management assets in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. Read More
ManagementWest Central Names New President
October 29, 2014
West Central’s board of directors have announced their unanimous decision to name Milan Kucerak President and CEO-elect following Jeff Stroburg’s retirement at the end of the fiscal year. Read More
InsecticidesValent U.S.A., MGK Form Marketing Agreement
October 24, 2014
Valent has formed an agreement with Minneapolis-based MGK to manage the marketing and sales of MGK’s crop protection line of insect control products within the U.S. beginning April 1, 2015. Read More
StewardshipFlorida’s 4R Advocate Keeps Improving
October 24, 2014
Florida farmer Alan Jones uses the 4R principles of nutrient stewardship as the core of his fertility program, which allows him to maximize production and keep costs in check. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Named One Of The World’s Best Multinational …
October 23, 2014
Monsanto ranked No. 8 in the world’s largest annual study of workplace excellence that identifies the top 25 best multinational companies in terms of workplace culture. Read More
Crop InputsArysta Hires Former Agri-Chem, CPS Employee For Delta S…
October 23, 2014
New Territory Sales Manager Mark Peel’s primary role will focus on working with growers regarding fungicides in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee. Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Announces Appointments In Plant Food Division
October 22, 2014
GROWMARK, Inc. has announced the three key staff changes in its Plant Food Division. Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Appoints New VP Of Finance And Risk Management
October 22, 2014
Wade Mittelstadt has been named GROWMARK Vice President, Financial and Risk Mangement, effective December 1, 2014. Read More
FungicidesEPA Approves BASF In-Furrow Corn Fungicide
October 22, 2014
Field trials show Xanthion In-furrow fungicide provides more rapid emergence, extended residual control and improved seedling health than untreated crops. Read More
EquipmentAgraScout App Available At No Cost To Universities
October 21, 2014
AgraScout, a fast and easy to use mobile crop scouting app, is now available at no cost to University students, Read More
LegislationNew Farm Bill Program To Provide Relief To Farmers Affe…
October 21, 2014
The USDA has implemented a new Farm Bill initiative that will provide relief to farmers affected by severe weather, including drought. Read More
ManagementGreenfield Scholars Program Aims To Sustain Agronomy Wo…
October 21, 2014
The program encourages talented students to study agronomy, crop and soil sciences while cultivating networks to develop the necessary workforce to sustain the profession. Read More
Paul SchrimpfPrecision Ag: Taking It To The Hill
October 21, 2014
A new coalition took the good news message of precision agriculture to Washington, DC, last month. Read More
ManagementUSDA Awards $18 Million In Small Business Research Gran…
October 21, 2014
The grants will provide high quality, advanced research and development that will lead to technological innovations and solutions for American agriculture. Read More