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 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
Eric SfiligojAgriculture: A Need For The Long View
May 1, 2013
Members of the agricultural community might be tempted to take short-term fixes to problems, but only a long-term approach will ultimately prevail. 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

CropLife 100Pinnacle Forms Alliance With Wildlife Managment, Seed O…
July 25, 2014
The strategic alliance will provide Tecomate with key wildlife products, processing facilities, distribution centers and sales through Pinnacle’s ever-growing retail network. Read More
ManagementFranken Presses White House On RFS Support
July 25, 2014
Al Franken and a group of Senate democrats recently met with senior White House official John Podesta to urge the administration to change its position on an EPA proposal. Read More
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