InterviewOutgoing TFI president: fertilizer industry plays vital role

24 May 2013 22:34  [Source: ICIS news]

By Mark Milam

CHICAGO (ICIS)--In his time with The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), outgoing president Ford West has seen an industry that was once struggling to make it from year to year transform itself into a player with a very large and vital role in agriculture around the world and in the effort of providing food security to an increasingly larger global population.

“Basically what you had was a situation where if there was a weather problem, it would cause a spike in the commodity products with corn and those types of commodities, and then fertilizer would follow. One year would be good, and fertilizer would be up, and then the next year, we would drop back down,” West said.

“That cost our industry, and that started a rationalization within our industry that is still a challenge to this day. When I first started, 95% of fertilizer consumed in North America was produced in North America. Today, that is not the case because we import our nitrogen and ammonia. The globalization and rationalization has had a big impact on industry, and we see that still occurring.”

Having joined TFI in 1979, West said he was not a fertilizer guy but rather a person just seeking better employment. However, over the years, he said with a hearty laugh that he learned the difference between fertile soil and common dirt.

Further, he can now fully see how he and other leaders in the industry have embraced the role that fertilizer plays in the lives of not only the people who cultivate the world’s food supply, but also the billions of people who depend on that outsourcing of commodities.

“Somewhere along the way, I became a fertilizer guy, and I became committed to this industry and the role it has in society and the contribution it makes to society. I think our efforts over the years have been to promote and demonstrate the benefits so that we maintain our social license to operate,” West said.

“We have a goal, and that goal is focused on food security, and how we are worldwide going to feed 9bn people, and what is our role in that. Our goal as an industry is to participate and do it in an environmentally and economically and safely way. Those who come into our industry now know what that goal is, and they are focusing in on the big picture of growing enough food to feed the world’s population.”

West pointed to technology being a key element in reaching that goal as precision agriculture has revolutionized modern farming and allows for more efficient means of operating and placement of inputs like nutrients and seed. He said some of the challenges ahead for the industry will still be transportation and logistics, but that safety will remain both a priority and obstacle for producers and distributors.

“People can’t distinguish between a manufacturing plant and a retail center and between different products - it is fertilizer. And they are saying fertilizer is an issue of concern, and that puts pressure on every facility to work within the community and to be transparent and say: 'We are here; this is what we are doing; and here is our programs to keep you safe,'” West said.

“We need to renew our efforts and know that we can not achieve our goals of helping the world to produce the food that is going to be required if we can’t convince our neighbors that we can do it safely and without putting them in any large risk with the operating of our facilities.”

When he reflects back at his tenure at TFI, West said he proud that the organisation has taken a real commitment to educating the industry and farmers on the economic benefits of proper and sufficient applications.

“We take on every fertilizer issue, and we may at times be perceived as a producer organization, but the thing is we work on fertilizer. One of the things I have tried to work real hard on is to make everyone in our industry realise that if it is fertilizer, that we are going to be there. I think also that our focus on good stewardship is important,” West said.

“TFI’s role is still focused on the United States, but to do that, given the world commodity that we are, it takes us sometimes around the world.”

International Fertilizer Industry Association president Bill Doyle said this week that when someone thinks of West, what will be most remembered is someone who is not only a real leader for the industry but also a man who will always be considered a great friend of the fertilizer business and those who benefit from its use.

When asked why he was deciding to depart at this time, West said it was the right time as he realised he was ready to face a new portion of his life.

“I am turning 66 this year so I have been at it a long time, and I sat down and said, 'It is time for me to do something else.' I love this industry, and I love the job. It is great to work with the members of our industry, no matter if they are at the producer level or at the retail level,” West said.

“You do the best you can to promote this industry, and I just kind of felt it was time for me to move on and bring some new leadership in. My wife says I am transitioning - that I am not retiring, but that I better figure out real quick what I am transitioning to.”

On 21 May, the TFI board of directors announced that Chris Jahn was selected as the new president effective 9 September. Jahn previously served as president of the National Association of Chemical Distributors since 2006.

By: Mark Milam
+1 713 525 2653

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

For the latest chemical news, data and analysis that directly impacts your business sign up for a free trial to ICIS news - the breaking online news service for the global chemical industry.

Get the facts and analysis behind the headlines from our market leading weekly magazine: sign up to a free trial to ICIS Chemical Business.

Printer Friendly

Get access to breaking chemical news as it happens.
ICIS Global Petrochemical Index (IPEX)
ICIS Global Petrochemical Index (IPEX). Download the free tabular data and a chart of the historical index