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OMAHA (DTN) -- Brent Hall knows what's at stake since the April 17, 2013, ammonium nitrate explosion at West Fertilizer Co. in West, Texas.
So the agronomy manager for South Central Cooperative in Lacona, Iowa, doesn't hesitate to open the doors of the company's fertilizer facility to local emergency management officials.
Two years after the West explosion, the general public's examination of the safety of retail fertilizer facilities may have waned, but this does not mean fertilizer retailers can afford to cut corners on safety, Hall told DTN. If anything, retailers need to do more, he said.
"You need the self-discipline to make sure you are following all regulations correctly and even do things which are not mandatory," he said. "Usually once a year we walk through our facility with the local volunteer firefighters to make sure they know what we store here -- something which is not mandatory."
After the Texas disaster killed 14 people and destroyed many nearby buildings two years ago, many in the fertilizer industry were concerned about the potential lasting effects of this tragic incident. Would fertilizer retailers be subject to more federal or state regulations regarding the handling and storing of fertilizer?
Today, the answer generally is no. While federal and state governments did not mandate more regulations when it comes to storing fertilizer because of the West accident, the fertilizer industry itself decided more safety oversight was needed.
NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION ESTABLISHED
This influenced ResponsibleAg to be established in 2014 by The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) and the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA).
The nonprofit organization helps agribusinesses comply with federal environmental, health, safety and security rules regarding handling and storing fertilizer. The organization provides participating retailers with federal regulatory compliance audits, recommendations for corrective actions and resources they need.
A Code of Practice for anhydrous ammonia was in the planning stages in February 2013, several months before the West explosion, said Daren Coppock, ARA president and CEO. A Code of Practice would be a certification process anhydrous ammonia dealers would need to complete that is similar to what Canadian fertilizer dealers have to follow, he said.
"After West, we expanded the focus of the group to include fertilizers like ammonium nitrate (AN) and then we got started in January '14," Coppock told DTN.
Any businesses that store or handle fertilizer products are eligible to take part in the ResponsibleAg certification program. According to the responsibleag.org website, there are 9,000 facilities estimated to be eligible to participate in the U.S. Of these, approximately 3,000 handle ammonium nitrate and/or anhydrous ammonia fertilizer.
These 3,000 facilities are the initial focus for the ResponsibleAg audit program.
Kathy Mathers, vice-president of public affairs for The Fertilizer Institute, said there have been 2,000 facilities registered in the program already and the list continues to grow.
"We managed to do a few assessments before the spring season got into full swing, and we are getting ready to officially certify our first ResponsibleAg facility," Mathers told DTN.
In addition, a retired retail facility has been retrofitted and a classroom was built on the grounds for hands-on training for auditors, she said. An auditor training curriculum surrounding federal regulatory compliance for retailers was written, instructors were hired and auditor training began last October; 60 auditors have already been trained, she said.
Coppock said while ResponsibleAg continues to develop, he believes the core program of audits, recommendations for corrective actions and being a resource to retailers will not change much as the program continues to grow. Once retailers become more familiar with the program, he believes even more will be willing to take part.