TFI president optimistic about fertilizer industry despite challenges

10 October 2016 11:11 Source:ICIS News

Interview article by Sylvia Traganida

Chris Jahn resizedLONDON (ICIS)--The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) remains confident about the future of the industry despite the numerous challenges that it faces this year, according to its president Chris Jahn.

Jahn said that he is very confident that the association is doing all the right things now to set itself up for success in 2017, 2018 and beyond.

“Our plate is full without a doubt, but actually, long term, I am very optimistic. I am very bullish both on the things that we as TFI and the industry are doing and the outlook for the industry long term and we know what the demographics are in terms of growth in the world. So the demand is going to be there as is the supply that the world has now and the market is good at working that out and sometimes that’s painful but eventually we’ll get there,” Jahn said.

This year, the fertilizer industry has been faced with various challenges, such as the fires in Fort McMurray in Alberta in May, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) imposing new safety requirements on fertilizer dealers and most recently the sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales phosphate facility in Florida and the merger deal of Agrium and Potash Company of Saskatchewan.

On 23 September, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the OSHA acted illegally in imposing new safety requirements on fertilizer dealers.

Specifically, the court determined that the OSHA overstepped when it redefined exemptions for retail facilities included in the Process Safety Management (PSM) standard. The changes were set to take effect on 1 October.

TFI is focusing on a number of issues this year, including air quality, water quality, transportation, energy and safety and security.

On 28 September, the US House of Representatives approved the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016. The bipartisan legislation addresses the needs of America’s harbours, locks, dams, flood protection, and other water resources infrastructure. The legislation was passed by the House by 399 votes to 25.

“The biggest challenge facing the industry is water quality and nutrient stewardship and to try to get as many farmers as possible to follow fertilizer best practises for those water quality issues that come from agriculture.

"We are doing everything we possibly can to make sure that we are good stewards of the environment so we are looking to accelerate that as much as we possibly can and we are putting significant resources – millions of dollars – into research, in-the-field adoption of practices,” Jahn added during the TFI World Fertilizer Conference in San Diego.

“We are engaged across the board in lobbying Congress and working with state governments. Unfortunately, lawsuits are necessary, like the Des Moines Water Works issue that we are engaged in in Iowa [a lawsuit over nitrate levels in the Raccoon River, a source of drinking water for 500,000 central Iowa residents].

TFI is also working towards reaching out to the younger generation in the fertilizer industry by rolling out a new website and engaging in social media.

“We are trying to meet them where they are. We are going to roll out a brand new website and it’s going to be mobile-friendly, we are on social media platforms, [with the] focus particularly on Twitter and try to engage those people where they are as well as try to draw them to us.

"Also, we have a great story to tell in terms of half of crop production is a result of fertilizers and in fact we have done an economic study and we got nearly 100,000 voters. We have found that our economic impact in the US is about $140bn in terms of people we employ and taxes we pay and $400bn worth of US agriculture is a result of fertilizers."

Also, before the US presidential elections on 8 November, TFI has introduced a 2016 Voter Toolkit as part of its Get Out the Vote (GOTV) initiative. The toolkit will allow TFI members to confirm their voter registration status and to register if they have not already. It will also include non-partisan candidate biographies, information on polling locations, absentee ballot requests and early voting opportunities.

Jahn said that the result of the presidential elections has the potential to have a big impact in the industry.

“We stand ready to work with whomever wins because at the end of the day in the next 35 years we are going to have 2 more billion people and we need to feed them. So they need to understand what the policy implications are for the decisions they make, the impact it has on the industry.

"Whoever wins will have a big impact on who runs [the] EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], OSHA, USDA [the United States Department of Agriculture], which have a big impact on our industry, but also on the control of Congress as well.

"We are in the process of putting together a plan preparing for whomever wins and that is going to be a big deal for us not only this year obviously but into 2017 and 2018.”

Jahn also commented on the importance of the free trade deal negotiations between the EU and the US, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the tariff on fertilizer imports into the EU.

“There is a lot of rhetoric around trade from both sides frankly and it’s a little bit alarming, not just for fertilizers but for agriculture in general. We can’t consume everything that we produce here and so having open markets across the world is really important and agriculture is a big success story for our trading.

"European imports coming into the United States don’t pay any tariffs, but we go into Europe and there is a 6.5% tariff on fertilizers so [the] TTIP is important for us to unlock some of those European markets. Particularly, at a time when margins are tight, prices are low, 6.5% doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s enough to make a difference and so we are looking for Europe to open up and let’s just compete and whoever wins, wins.

"The marketplace is a good way to sorting that all out and we are just asking to let us play by the same rules that you play by here.”

Finally, he added that TFI has joined forces with Fertilizer Canada, Fertilizers Europe and the International Fertilizer Association (IFA) to celebrate the first annual Global Fertilizer Day on 13 October, which was selected for its proximity to World Food Day (16 October). This year, TFI is largely focused on building industry awareness and support.

The TFI World Fertilizer Conference took place on 25-27 September in San Diego.

Follow Sylvia Traganida on Twitter

By Sylvia Traganida