The Fertilizer Institute
Advocating for a strong economy and safe communities
By Kathy Mathers
The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) is the national trade association representing fertilizer producers, wholesalers, retailers and other businesses whose interests touch the U.S. plant nutrition industry. Based out of Washington, D.C., the association provides government relations, economic services, scientific programs and public communication expertise to its members.
In the course of serving the industry, TFI interacts with a multitude of U.S. federal government agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Natural Gas, a critical industry resource
The fertilizer industry is energy intensive, with the cost of natural gas accounting for between 70 and 90 percent of the cost of production of nitrogen fertilizers. Nitrogen is highly traded on the international market, so when U.S. natural gas prices spiked and became volatile during the late 1990s and extending through to the mid 2000s the industry found it difficult to compete in the global marketplace. During this period, approximately 50 percent of U.S. nitrogen production capacity was shuttered – for what appeared at the time to be permanently.
Fast forward to recent developments in the U.S. energy market as vast supplies of natural gas are now available via hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” the fracturing of rock by a pressurized liquid. Now the equation has changed, not only with the opening of previously shuttered nitrogen plants, but also with a multitude of announcements of plans to build additional world class fertilizer manufacturing plants here in the United States. The interest in siting facilities here extends beyond North American businesses and includes companies from as far away as Egypt and Pakistan. Each new fertilizer production facility has a positive economic impact and typically brings with it approximately 1,500 construction jobs and about 150 permanent jobs. A survey conducted recently by Charles River Associates for TFI found that the jobs associated with fertilizer production facilities are often the best, highest paying jobs in individual communities, so this manufacturing renaissance is providing tremendous economic benefits to small communities across the nation.
TFI’s response to the West, Texas Fertilizer explosion
On April 17, a tragic explosion rocked the town of West, Texas. An intense fire in a wooden warehouse building caused 30 tons of ammonium nitrate to detonate, resulting in the loss of life and property. TFI’s thoughts and prayers continue to be with those affected by the disaster. The blast changed the landscape of the town and the lives of those who call West home. As residents rebuild their homes and schools, honor fallen heroes and recover from that catastrophic day, we are still working to ensure that safety is the number one priority of all who work in the fertilizer supply chain.
Since the explosion, TFI, in partnership with the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA), has alerted the industry of a tool to support compliance with existing U.S. federal regulations and associated best management practices. The online Compliance Assessment Tool for agricultural retail facilities, developed by the nonprofit Asmark Institute (www.asmark.org), helps control risk and supports agricultural retailers as they work to comply with regulations and implement best management practices. The tool is available at https://www.asmark.org/ComplianceAssessmentTool.
In addition to the Assessment tool, TFI and ARA are working to develop Responsible Ag (RA). RA will provide a platform for companies or individuals who supply or store fertilizer to register under the umbrella of an overarching Code of Practice. Registration will allow the industry to have a more complete reference of facilities involved in the trade. Stationary storage facilities owned by farmers are also in-scope. Beyond registration, RA will provide Codes of Practice for specific fertilizer products and feature third party inspections of retail facilities. These Codes will cover anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate at the outset, though may expand to other products in the future. They are based on current regulatory requirements for these products.
Additionally, on August 1, President Barack Obama released an Executive Order – Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security. The Executive Order establishes a Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group. The group will work to develop a plan to improve operational coordination with state, local and tribal partners; enhance Federal coordination; enhance information collection and sharing; develop a plan for modernizing key policies, regulations and standards looking specifically at EPA’s Risk Management Program and OSHA’s Process Safety Management; and convene a stakeholders meeting to identify and share best practices to reduce safety and security risks. TFI supports the Administration’s initiative to improve coordination among government agencies in this area and to re-examine existing regulations and practices.
Additional information on TFI, the policy issues it covers and its current activities are available at:
Kathy Mathers is Vice President, Public Affairs, for The Fertilizer Institute.
This feature originally appears in the Fall 2013 edition of Resources Quarterly.
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