US ageing infrastructure a concern for fertilizers industry – TFI president

Sylvia Traganida


LONDON (ICIS)–The US’ ageing infrastructure is a concern for the fertilizers industry and the country is losing its competitive edge compared with other regions, according to the new president of The Fertilizer Institute (TFI).

Corey Rosenbusch said good infrastructure has historically been a key component of US agriculture’s comparative advantage in world markets, but it is being eroded now.

“A particularly important component is the US inland waterways and port infrastructure because our nation’s locks and dams are in urgent need of maintenance and modernization,” he said.

“Built in the 1920s and 1930s, most locks and dams have far exceeded their 50-year design lifespan. In the past decade, there has been a 700% increase in unscheduled stoppages for repairs, which can put fertilizer shipments in limbo as fields of crops wait for needed nutrients.

“Increasing funding for backlogged water infrastructure projects is one of our top issues. We’re urging Congress to prioritise funding for the $8.75bn backlog of 25 critical inland waterways projects,” Rosenbusch added.

Rosenbusch was appointed TFI’s new president and CEO in February and succeeded Chris Jahn, who left TFI in 2019 to lead the American Chemistry Council.

Following the outbreak of the coronavirus in the US earlier in the year Rosenbusch said that the spring had been incredibly good.

In March, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recognised that the workers in the fertilizer supply chain were “essential critical infrastructure workers”.

This meant that TFI’s members were on the front lines, delivering products and services in a timely manner to its farmer customers.

“I know that the spring season is always a challenge, so adding a global pandemic to the mix could have been the perfect storm, if not for the professionals we have throughout the supply chain.

“I am quite proud of our industry for performing brilliantly under such trying circumstances. Our members prioritised the health and safety of their teams, and as a result, the industry experienced minimal Covid cases and were able to ensure business continuity,” Rosenbusch said.

The pandemic also affected TFI’s annual World Fertilizer Conference which was due to take place in September in Washington, DC, but was moved to Indianapolis instead.

“The Covid-19 situation scuttled my plans to get out of Washington, D.C., and visit many of our members’ facilities in my first few months on the job.

“The silver lining is that I have instead been able to speak and video chat with nearly 50 of our members to hear about the ways that TFI can best serve them,” he added.

Rosenbusch added that moving forward he remains concerned about the market conditions for farmers and prices for their crops during the autumn harvest.

On climate change and the impact of fertilizer production on the environment, Rosenbusch said that new and upgraded US fertilizer production capacity is among the world’s most efficient.

TFI members’ nitrogen production plants capture and reuse CO2 emitted during fertilizer production and, through the promotion of 4R nutrient stewardship the institute is promoting optimised fertilizer use to reduce nitrogen emissions from farm fields.

“While we don’t control our customers’ use of our products, we can positively influence their decisions. We are working with our retailer members, crop advisers and NGOs, such as the Nature Conservancy, to reach out and make a strong economic and environmental case for 4R nutrient stewardship,” Rosenbusch said.

The voluntary 4R certification programme is an effort by the North American agriculture industry to significantly reduce and prevent fertilizer from running off fields into the water supply.

The programme certifies fertilizer retailers and crop consultants following business practices in accordance with 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles.

4R practices incorporate using the right fertilizer source at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place.

Programme participants must go through annual, independent, third-party audits, which demonstrate their understanding and implementation of 4R principles with their grower customer.

Rosenbusch said that the Trump administration has made trade a priority and the agricultural community is quite happy to see the White House take such a strong stance with some of its global trading partners.

He added that if President Trump is not re-elected, he expects there will be a major focus on climate change policy and less patience for water quality challenges resulting from fertilizer use. 

Rosenbusch said that TFI’s new strategic plan will be his top priority during his tenure.

“TFI has so many strengths, starting with our skilled staff and a strong and very supportive membership.

“TFI’s new strategic plan, which was adopted by our board in September of last year, was written over a period of nine months with member, staff and stakeholder input. Seeing that the plan is implemented as envisioned by TFI members will be one of my priorities.

“Additionally, I am looking to enhance value proposition for members through new services and products that meet existing and emerging business needs.

“Finally, I will work with staff and member leaders to set measurable goals for recruitment and retention, and implement an engagement programme to measure member satisfaction. That includes finding ways to penetrate deeper into member companies and achieve broader engagement across the entire organisation,” he added.

Rosenbusch said the fertilizer industry can contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The fertilizer industry provides plant nutrients that are responsible for approximately 50% of the world’s food.

He said the priority was to reduce environmental loss by sustainable water management practices and land reclamation that take place during fertilizer production and on the farm, fertilizer best management practice awareness and research. They all contribute to the Clean Water and Sanitation SDG.

Because clean, abundant natural gas powers many of the industry’s production operations, and companies in the phosphate industry are recapturing waste heat to make facilities more efficient, the industry contributes to the Affordable and Clean Energy SDG.

He added that over the past three years, the US fertilizer industry made a $2.4bn on average in annual capital investments. This money helps to advance innovation and improve infrastructure, have positive impacts on safety, environmental, and energy performance and aligns with the Industry Innovation and Infrastructure SDG.

The industry’s strong support of increased energy efficiency including 4R nutrient management practices contributes to the Climate Action SDG.

Rosenbusch added that TFI’s work on nutrient stewardship and broader sustainability issues will continue to be data-driven as “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”.

“Our State of the Industry sustainability report is an example of TFI’s work to help companies in the industry benchmark their environmental performance. Our ongoing collaboration with the Agricultural Retailers Association and the Asmark Institute on ResponsibleAg, is yet another example of the industry stepping up to the plate on stewardship and sustainability,” he said.

He added that the world-class technology in new and modified facilities run by the US nitrogen industry make it a leader in emission reduction.

TFI’s State of the Industry Sustainability report found that nitrogen producers captured 363% more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2018 than they did in 2013.

The report also found that GHG emissions per-nutrient ton produced decreased by 7% between 2017 and 2018, which was on top of several years of steady decreases made possible by a combination of new construction and engineering.

Interview article by Sylvia Traganida

Follow Sylvia Traganida on Twitter 

Visit the ICIS Coronavirus topic page for analysis of the impact on fertilizer markets and links to latest news.


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