The Ammonium Nitrate Question

It’s now been two weeks since the explosion at West Fertilizer Co. in West, TX, and investigators are still trying to determine what caused the horrific blast that killed 14 people, injured more than 200 and devastated parts of this town. I covered much of this in last week’s column, so there’s not much new to add right now.

However, plenty of readers have sent me e-mails regarding the event. With the exception of a lone e-mail, the rest of these letters agreed with my assessment based upon the facts that West Fertilizer’s owner, Adair Grain, could (and should) have been more thorough in its safety planning considering the amount of ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) it had at the facility. “Yes, they definitely sound like they were in violation of filing improper paperwork, which might have made a difference in how first responders handled the situation,” said most e-mails.

In fact, one e-mail mentioned the example of a 2009 fire at an El Dorado Chemical Co. plant in Bryan, TX. “Because this facility had an emergency plan that mentioned having ammonium nitrate, first responders to this blaze made the decision to evacuate the surrounding area rather than stay and fight the fire,” wrote the e-mail writer.

Yet, the most interesting e-mails I received were ones calling for an end to storing ammonium nitrate at the nation’s more than 6,000 fertilizer facilities. “I feel that our industry needs to take a serious look at getting out of the 34-0-0 business,” wrote one emailer. “It has too many wrong uses today.”

Now in truth, ammonium nitrate isn’t as widespread as it used to be. According to statistics from The Fertilizer Institute, only 2% of the nitrogen fertilizer sold annually in the U.S. is ammonium nitrate, down from 5% just 15 years ago. Still, say agriculture experts, it is popular with grower-customers in parts of the country such as Central Texas with alkaline soils, which can react negatively with other forms of nitrogen fertilizer.

Although I wasn’t covering the business at the time, I imagine this same argument regarding ammonium nitrate took place following the tragedy of Oklahoma City in the mid-1990s. It will be interesting to see what impact the recent events in West, TX, might now have on this ongoing debate.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “The Ammonium Nitrate Question

  1. The explosion at West was sad especially since everyone in that town was connected one way or another to those who died. Even so these arguments for banning ammonium nitrate are weak. Weak because it is impossible to simply ban everything that is dangerous. What do we ban next? Grain bins, anhydrous ammonia, tractors, or perhaps silos. That ammonium nitrate is an oxidizer used in explosive is likewise a weak argument. Does anyone really believe that the terrorists of the world won't quickly switch to a substitute, and that terrorists are price sensitive? There is no good substitute in agriculture for ammonium nitrate. Particularly for pastures and hayfields. West, TX is in the middle of the blacklands. Once cotton country it is now mostly grass with some corn, milo and cotton. It is and has always been low input country because the rain pattern are unpredictable, expect being able to expect drouth conditions two out of three years. Because it's productivity is unpredictable spending money on nitrogen has to be conservative and opportunistic. Urea is not a great option because of volatilization concerns. Stabilized urea is no bargain, ammonium sulfate is ok but that much sulfur is not needed so it become an expensive source. Liquid nitrogen is also problematic in these low input systems because it's half urea and one has to be equipped to apply it himself or hope a custom applicator will do his farm in a timely manner. I am an agronomist out of Shiner, TX. Like West, Shiner is a small Czech community in the blacklands whose agriculture is primarily grass based. Because there is a literal kinship between our communities I can say that West's pain is deeply felt here. Yet I am willing to say that ammonium nitrate is an important input that has no good alternative and should not be banned. Mark Egan Black Prairie Agriculture

Eric Sfiligoj Stories

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
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

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
EquipmentNew Holland Acquires Miller-St. Nazianz
September 3, 2014
The assets of Miller acquired as part of the transaction will become part of New Holland Agriculture, a CNH Industrial brand, building on a successful four-year partnership between the two companies. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires East Kansas Chemical
September 2, 2014
Ranked 82nd on the CropLife 100, East Kansas Chemical will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More
ManagementExpert To Discuss Farmland Value, Rent At Farm Science Review
August 18, 2014
While cropland values in Ohio increased in the past two years, they have remained flat in 2014, declining in some cases, according to an Ohio State University agricultural economist. Read More
EquipmentAdvance Your Technology IQ At MAGIE
August 13, 2014
The Midwest AG Industries Exposition (August 20-21) is the place you need to be to see, study and evaluate how new advances in the equipment, operations, crop protection and fertility sectors can help your business prosper. Read More

Latest News

CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires Kansas-Based Cedar Ridge Supply
September 16, 2014
Cedar Ridge Supply will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
StewardshipSecretary Vilsack Highlights Innovative Conservation Ef…
September 15, 2014
Nearly $16 million in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) will be awarded to 47 organizations to help develop cutting-edge ideas to accelerate innovation in private lands conservation. Read More
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Responds To Cargill Lawsuit
September 15, 2014
Syngenta believes that the lawsuit is without merit and strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies. Read More
Equipment2014 Farm Science Review Launches Mobile App
September 15, 2014
Smartphone and tablet users planning on attending the 2014 Farm Science Review can now download this year’s customized mobile application. Read More
CropLife 100Southern States Coop Grower Sets Georgia Soybean Yield …
September 15, 2014
Georgia farmer Randy Dowdy's soybeans yielded an astonishing 110.66 bushels per acre, crushing the previous record of 82 bushels-per-acre. Read More
NIMITZ Treated vs Untreated pepper plant
InsecticidesNIMITZ Nematicide Approved By EPA
September 12, 2014
NIMITZ is a novel, non-fumigant nematicide with simplified application features, user safety and an active ingredient with a unique mode of action. Read More
InsecticidesMarrone Bio Innovations Receives Patent For Chromobacte…
September 11, 2014
The patent is the first step for MBI in developing a commercially viable product to inhibit infestations of corn rootworm larvae across America and other regions. Read More
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences: Keeping The Pipeline Stocked
September 11, 2014
Dow AgroSciences is embracing product diversity to drive the company’s future. Read More
CropLife 100CHS Is Official Partner Of New St. Paul Ballpark
September 10, 2014
The new ballpark in St. Paul, MN, officially became CHS Field with Twin Cities-based CHS Inc. revealed as the naming rights partner. Read More
EquipmentHagie Honors Farming Stewardship Leaders
September 10, 2014
The Iowa Farm Environmental Leader award recognizes Iowa farmers as environmental leaders that are committed to healthy soils and improved water quality. Read More
Precision AgPlantBeat: Your Plants’ Pulse In The Palm Of Your Han…
September 10, 2014
A new agronomic monitoring and recommendation service from Phytech could rewrite the book on real-time plant health status monitoring. Read More
StewardshipCCAs Making Headway With 4R Program In Lake Erie Wester…
September 9, 2014
Certified Crop Advisers are implementing the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification program in Lake Erie's Western Basin to improve water quality. Read More
MicronutrientsMicronutrients Going Macro
September 9, 2014
Between 2014’s fantastic growing conditions and a heightened awareness on plant nutrition, the major players in micronutrients are gearing up for another big year. Read More
Crop InputsFMC Announces Cheminova Takeover
September 8, 2014
FMC Corporation today announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Cheminova, a wholly owned subsidiary of Auriga Industries. Read More
HerbicidesValent’s Fierce XLT Herbicide Receives EPA Approv…
September 8, 2014
Valent U.S.A. Corp. announced today that Fierce XLT Soybean Herbicide is now federally registered for preemergence weed control in soybeans Read More
Eric SfiligojIndustry Consolidation Set To Increase Going Forward
September 8, 2014
As the agricultural marketplace moves into fall, one observer predicts the pace of consolidation will grow at all levels. Read More
LegislationCropLife America Leaders Address Regulatory Landscape, …
September 8, 2014
As CropLife America enters its 81st year, the organization’s leaders have seen another period of rapid and visible policy and public issue activity. 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