By Russ Quinn
DTN Staff Reporter
OMAHA (DTN) -- Farmers have been moving toward storing fertilizer on their farms to ensure product is available to them when they want it and to take advantage of price breaks during certain times of the year.
The massive explosion of the West Fertilizer Co. in West, Texas, on April 17 that killed 14 people and injured more than 200 others triggered more debates on fertilizer safety.
At a press conference May 16, state and federal authorities announced they have ended a month-long scene investigation and the cause of the disaster is "undetermined." Investigators have ruled out possible causes for the fire, including rekindling from a previous fire, spontaneous ignition, a 480-watt electricity system, anhydrous ammonia, ammonium nitrate (AN), smoking or weather concerns.
Authorities added they haven't eliminated other causes, though, such as a 120-volt electrical system, a possible spark from a golf cart battery, or an intentionally set fire. A criminal investigation continues, as well as a Line of Duty Deaths investigation connected to 10 first responders and firefighters, as well as two volunteers who were killed as they attempted to fight the initial fire.
More attention is being focused on storage regulations for certain flammable fertilizer products at retail as well as on-farm locations. There were 150 tons of ammonium nitrate on the West Fertilizer Co. property, and 28-34 tons of AN that exploded after the initial fire started in a building.
Some states have on-farm fertilizer regulations in place, while other states do not have rules governing fertilizer storage on the farm. Discovering what regulations apply in a particular state isn't always easy.
According to research gathered by DTN with the help of industry group The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), 12 states have fertilizer storage regulations specific for on-farm situations. Those states are: Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio and Washington. States that have no on-farm storage regulations on the books: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. DTN also made several attempts to contact officials in Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire and West Virginia, but had not received a response by the time this article was posted.
LONG-TIME REGULATIONS IN KANSAS
Rick Wiedmann, fertilizer and containment specialist for the Kansas Department of Agriculture in Topeka, said his state has had on-farm fertilizer regulations for many years.
"All of our requirements are the same for commercial and farm facilities," Wiedmann told DTN. "A spill is a spill whether on a farm or at a retailer."
Wiedmann pointed out many larger farms in Kansas could store as much, if not more, fertilizer than some commercial retailers within the state. This is especially true in the wide-open spaces of western Kansas, he said.
In Kansas, farmers who build on-farm fertilizer storage also have to worry about secondary containment structures and load pad requirements if certain thresholds are met, he said.
If a farmer has total storage capacity equal to 2,000 gallons or more, a secondary containment is needed. If 125 tons or more of liquid fertilizer is transferred in or out of the facility in any 365-day period, the farmer will need a load pad.
These regulations also apply to dry fertilizer storage. If 25 tons or more of dry fertilizer is loaded in or out during any 365-day period, a load pad and secondary containment are required.
Wiedmann said farmers considering fertilizer storage on their farms need to fill out several pages of forms and submit these forms to KDA. The KDA will review the plan and then, if they are approved, an approval letter and a certification of completion form are sent to the farmer.
After construction of the on-farm fertilizer structure is completed, the certificate of completion is returned to KDA by the farmer. Wiedmann said fertilizer facilities in the state are inspected by 14 field inspectors scattered across the state.
"Every fertilizer storage facility within the state will be inspected at least once during the course of three years," he said. "Some will be inspected more."
A TALE OF TWO STATES
While the Mount Rushmore State, South Dakota, is just a few hundred miles away from Kansas, the Sunflower State, they are much further apart when it comes to on-farm fertilizer regulations.
South Dakota has no on-farm fertilizer regulations. According to a fact sheet found on the South Dakota Department of Agriculture website, "At present time in South Dakota, no fertilizer storage and handling requirements are directed towards agricultural producer operations other than reporting spills."
Brad Berven, an administrator of fertilizer programs for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture in Pierre, said he does remember a time when the state talked about possibly having regulations of on-farm fertilizer storage.
"I believe it was in 1992, now 20 years ago, they had a bill in the South Dakota Legislature to regulate on-farm fertilizer," Berven told DTN, "but the bill didn't get passed."
While the state has no on-farm fertilizer storage/handling regulations, Berven is quick to point out pollution is still against the law in the state. Occurrences of pollution from a fertilizer spill may be a violation of state and federal laws such as the Clean Water Act, he said.
North Dakota also has no on-farm fertilizer storage regulations. Brad Thykeson, a farmer from Portland, N.D., stores dry fertilizer on his east-central North Dakota farm.
"As far as I know, the state has no on-farm regulation when it comes to storing fertilizer," said Thykeson, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat. "Hopefully I didn't just get myself in trouble."
Thykeson, who is the president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association, stores potash in poly-lined bins. He estimates by purchasing and storing potash during certain times of the year, he saves about $40 to $50 per ton.
He has about 600 tons of fertilizer storage, which he fills twice during the course of the year. While that may seem like a good amount, he estimates many North Dakota farmers store much more fertilizer than he does.
MIX OF REGULATIONS
Some states have on-farm fertilizer regulations, but there is some flexibility within their rules.
In Washington state, for example, there are on-farm fertilizer storage regulations but farmers and retailers can store liquid fertilizer in temporary locations, according to Brent Perry, fertilizer compliance manager for the Washington State Department of Agriculture in Spokane.
Because of the wide-open spaces in eastern Washington, it is not always practical for farmers to drive to nearby towns while applying fertilizer to their wheat. During a six-month period, to go along with a crop season, WSDA allows storage tanks from 500 to 10,000 gallons to sit for up to 21 days in one spot.
"Some folks might have to drive 80 miles to the closest location for fertilizer," Perry said. "This rule allows for ease in application."
TEXAS BLAST COULD LEAD TO CHANGES
Farmers may want more convenience to access fertilizer, but the deadly explosion in Texas last month could affect fertilizer storage regulations on state and federal levels.
Benny Hitch, program director for agriculture compliance for the Alabama Department of Agriculture in Montgomery, said he received several calls after the West tragedy, mainly about state regulations pertaining to fertilizer. He received calls from the media, as well as state agribusiness councils looking to train their employees on fertilizer safety.
In the wake of what happened in Texas, Hitch believes more regulations could be heading toward those who store fertilizer, but he isn't sure if it will be from the federal government or from state agriculture departments.
"I imagine some more are coming, but I really hope they are from the federal government, as many fertilizer businesses do business across state lines," Hitch told DTN. "It would be much simpler to have federal regs than to have many different state rules."
AUDITS ALSO CAN HELP
While some may feel fewer regulations are better, there could be advantages to having rules to follow and to having your farm audited by a third party.
Validus is an independent certification company based out of Urbandale, Iowa. Many of the company's clients are agribusinesses that want to be audited in areas such as on-farm security to assure they are doing all they can to be safe. This on-farm security is important to protect employees, as well as keep the environment safe from fertilizer spills.
Marj Ocheltree, program manager for Validus, said Validus created a Crisis Management and Emergency Action Plan for a large-farming operation. This plan is a written blueprint stating what exactly would happen in the case of an emergency and the duties employees are expected to do during the crisis.
Because this farm had a plan in place along with meeting state regulations, the farm got a discount on its insurance. The insurance company liked the fact the farm had a plan like this in place, Ocheltree said.
"I would think most farmers would have a plan like this at least mentally," Ocheltree said. "But by having this written plan in place, it ended up saving them some money."
So while regulations and audits are usually associated with negative situations, the opposite may actually be true, she said.
Editor's note: To see DTN's past coverage as well as updates on the West, Texas Explosion and related fertilizer stories, check out http://www.dtn.com/…
Russ Quinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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