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 SfiligojNew European Study Seems To Support Glyphosate Safety
November 23, 2015
Looking at any international news over the past few years, it might seem as if the European Union (EU) is Read More
Cedar Country Cooperative
Eric SfiligojCooperative Consolidation Continues
November 16, 2015
As I put this enewsletter column together, we’ve just put the finishing touches on our magazine’s annual CropLife 100 report. Read More
CPS Truck door
Eric SfiligojThe 2015 CropLife 100 Preview
November 5, 2015
Harvests should be largely done and grower-customers and the ag retailers that rely on them for income will have a Read More
Dow AgroSciences Logo wall
Eric SfiligojCrop Protection Suppliers: Rumor Has It
November 2, 2015
A few weeks ago, pop singer Adele debuted a new song for the world to hear. For those who might Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100CHS, MKC Consider Second Grain Terminal In Milan, KS
November 30, 2015
CHS Inc., an energy, grains and food company and the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative, and MKC, a full-service farm cooperative Read More
CropLife 100United Cooperative Acquires Four ADM Wisconsin Facilities
November 12, 2015
United Cooperative, based out of Beaver Dam, WI, recently acquired four grain and agronomy locations from Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Car Makes NASCAR Xfinity Series
October 29, 2015
BRANDT will join JR Motorsports with driver, Justin Allgaier, for the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity (NXS) Series season. Allgaier will pilot Read More
CHS Building exterior
CropLife 100CHS Leaders Help Shape Succession Report
October 22, 2015
Succession planning was listed as a main concern of cooperative leaders at this summer’s 15 regional CHS owner town hall Read More
Fall Harvest
CropLife 100Pinnacle Purchases Eight Regional Seed Companies
October 12, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings has announced the purchase of eight regional seed companies to advance its seed business. Pinnacle has acquired: Read More
MRM Agricultural Service
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires CropLife 100 Ag Retailer
October 8, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC has successfully acquired the Missouri-based agronomy business of MRM Agricultural Service, LLC and its affiliates (MRM). Operating Read More
Latest News
CropLife 100CHS, MKC Consider Second Grain Terminal In Milan, KS
November 30, 2015
CHS Inc., an energy, grains and food company and the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative, and MKC, a full-service farm cooperative Read More
Dow AgroSciences Logo wall
HerbicidesGowan Co. To Acquire DNA Herbicides From Dow AgroScienc…
November 30, 2015
Gowan Co. has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire the entire global dinitroaniline (DNA) herbicide portfolio from Dow AgroSciences Read More
Palmer pigweed in soybean stubble
Herbicides‘Back to the Future’ Weed Control: Herbicide Outlook 20…
November 30, 2015
What’s new for herbicides in 2016? Well, not much, but the learning process is sure to continue for fine-tuning resistance Read More
Tim Hassinger Dow AgroSciences President and CEO
HerbicidesDow Expects Enlist Duo To Be Available For The 2016 U.S…
November 30, 2015
Relative to EPA’s recently filed motion to vacate the registration of Enlist Duo herbicide, The Dow Chemical Co. is confident Read More
HerbicidesBREAKING: EPA Pulls Registration On Dow’s Enlist …
November 25, 2015
EPA on Wednesday withdrew approval of a controversial new weed killer to be used on genetically modified corn and soybeans, Read More
FertilizerYara Tampa Ammonia Terminal Garners ResponsibleAg Honor…
November 25, 2015
Yara has received its first ResponsibleAg Certification for its Tampa, FL, Ammonia terminal location. This achievement demonstrates Yara’s commitment to Read More
ManagementReviewing The Top Ag Stories For 2015
November 24, 2015
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Paul Schrimpf discuss the most noteworthy events from this past year in agriculture. Read More
EmployeesAgriculture Jobs May Be Plentiful, But New Grads Are Sc…
November 24, 2015
Close to 60,000 jobs are set to open up in agriculture each year for the next five years, but there's not enough grads to fill them. Read More
Radish cover crop
StewardshipCover Crops Guide Helps Growers Improve Water Quality
November 23, 2015
A publication that teaches growers the advantages of using cover crops to improve soil health and crop yields has won Read More
Crop InputsThe Andersons’ Products Receive California Organi…
November 23, 2015
The Plant Nutrient Group of The Andersons, Inc. announced today that its Humic DG and Black Gypsum DG products are Read More
Eric SfiligojNew European Study Seems To Support Glyphosate Safety
November 23, 2015
Looking at any international news over the past few years, it might seem as if the European Union (EU) is Read More
Toggle Biostimulant corn roots
Crop InputsTwo New Biostimulants Added To United Suppliers’ …
November 20, 2015
Winfield US announces the launch of two new products in the United Suppliers portfolio for the 2016 crop season, Optify Read More
StewardshipNRDC Report: Cover Crops Contain Vast Benefits
November 19, 2015
As harvest season ends and farmers in the United States ready themselves for winter, one small change could make a Read More
Fall Harvest
Seed/BiotechArysta Launches New Seed Protectant
November 19, 2015
As spring wheat growers begin planning for a strong start to their season, Arysta LifeScience North America announces RANCONA V Read More
Crop InputsInocucor Receives U.S. Patent For Microbials
November 19, 2015
Inocucor Technologies Inc., the Montreal-based agriculture biotech company, was issued patent No. 9,175,258 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect Read More
ManagementSyngenta Rumors and ARA 2015 Preview
November 19, 2015
CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj looks at the latest rumors involving Syngenta selling its crop protection business and talks about events Read More
EquipmentAGCO Announces Finalists For Operator Of The Year Honor
November 19, 2015
AGCO Corp. has announced the four top operators chosen as finalists for AGCO’s 10th Annual Operator of the Year program, Read More
High Plains Aquifer
StewardshipStudy: High Plains Aquifer Overall Usage In Decline
November 18, 2015
A new Kansas State University study finds that the over-tapping of the High Plains Aquifer’s groundwater beyond the aquifer’s recharge Read More