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Toxic products in the food chain? No way!

Summary

The "Fear in the Fields" reports have put several micronutrient suppliers in the spotlight. Bay Zinc Co. - a leading supplier of liquid zinc solutions and dry zinc granules - has been particularly castigated, having been accused by the Seattle Times of violating federal hazardous laws on the testing, disclosure, handling and storage of hazardous wastes. In its issue of 23 November, the Seattle Times published an article on Bay Zinc's operations, headed "ToxicAsh from Tyres Used in Fertilizer"

Abstract

Bay Zinc Co. is described as manufacturing zinc-based fertilizers from the processing ofsome 12,000 tla of tyre ash supplied from a Connecticut-based company, Exeter Energy. The tyre-ash fertilizer is marketed as Btu-Min Zinc LHMthe LHM refers to "low heavy metals". This material is reported to contain 100 tla of toxic lead, together with cadmium. According to the Seattle Times report, Bay Zinc Co. "mixes the ash with sulphuric acid and water to produce fertilizer granules sold to distributors who mix it in blended product for farmers, nurseries and home gardeners. The buyers were not told the fertilizer was made from recycled waste."

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A groundless fear

Summary

"Fear in the Fields", alleges the Seattle Times. The US fertilizer industry finds itself in the dock over suggestions that it routinely passes off products which contain harmful by-products from recycled hazardous wastes. What exactly is happening? FI looks behind the headlines ...

Abstract

Credit where credit is due: the series ofstories which the Seattle Times began to run from 3 July and almost every week since, under the running title of "Fear in the Fields", is a classic piece of journalism. It embodies human interest; its snappy title helps it to embrace an issue which is well-tailored to the newspal'er's readership, and having been ~yndicated in 20-30 other newspapers throughout the United States - the series has prompted a major response from the US fertilizer industry and other agencies. Staff reporter Duff Wilson has been dogged in his putsuit of the story, which alleges that farmers have suffered damage to crops and farmland when they applied fertilizers containing hazardous wastes which have not been properly labelled.

This is a story that can touch a nerve with the newspaper's primarily urban readership, in a region which is famously keen on environmental issues. Remember how a threatened species of owl became a key issue in the 1988 US presidential campaign, which pitted the local environmental groups against the Pacific North West logging interests? It is tempting to think that no such conflict exists on this occasion, as swathes of trees are felled to provide the raw material for more "Fear in the Fields" reports for anxious Seattle Times readers. Interest in the story, though, has spread beyond the Seattle hinterland, as it was a keenly-discussed topic at the TFI World Fertilizer Conference in September, while on 15 October, the story hit prime-time TV, when the NBC network ran a fou~-minute report in the national news.

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Terra plants a flag in Europe

Summary

The New Year began with a significant change in the fertilizer industry map, as lei sold its fertilizer business to Terra Industries, Inc. This was the US company's first offshore acquisition, and marks the end of British ownership of the three major UK fertilizer producers. FI looks into the background of this major development.

Abstract

W ith effect from 1January, the Stars and Stripes can fly over Billingham and Severnside in the UK, as ICI completed the sale of its fertilizer business to Terra Industries, of Sioux City, Iowa. The deal appears to please all interested parties, including the European Commission and the UK regulatory authorities. The European Commission had a few months earlier blocked the agreed purchase of Kali und Salz by Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan (PCS), so its pronouncement on 20 December that the deal with Terra "does not give rise to any horizontal overlaps and will not create or strengthen a dominant position" carne as a relief to both ICI and Terra.

ICI had, it may be recalled, been on the point ofselling its fertilizer operations to Kemira in 1991, but the UK Department of Trade had overruled that agreement on the grounds of reduced competition. Kemira also earned the government's disfavour, as it was an overseas state-owned company - and thus "not one of us" in the eyes of ministers who were then pursuing privatisation programmes with exceptional zeal. What a difference seven years makes! In the intervening period, ICI Fertilizers had enjoyed a revival in its fortunes, as reflected by the mark-up in the value of the operations. The sale to Kemira at a proposed price of £ 100 million would have yielded ICI only £25-30 million ($40-46 million), but Terra will pay £200 million for the business. This is expected to give ICI a gain of £140 million before taking account of anyfurthertop-up payments from the deal.

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Phosphates power the economy

Summary

The forthcoming TFI Annual Meeting at Orlando will be convened close to the heartland of the Central Florida phosphate industry. Over the past three quarters of a century, the phosphate rock deposits of the Bone Valley have directly and indirectly underwritten a burgeoning economy, generating a world-class infrastructure and an unrivalled expertise in manufacturing, marketing and distribution. Some of the leading players in the sector are profiled below.

Abstract

At the fulcrum ofeconomic activity in Central Florida is the Port of Tampa. The Port of Tampa has historically been a bulk port, with phosphate as its top-ranking commodity. Even today, phosphate rock and its associated products comprise nearly 50% of the Port ofTampa's throughput, as more than 25 million s.tons of phosphate and related products were shipped from the port in 1997 out of a total tonnage of approximately 50 million s.tons. Additionally, phosphate and related products are the Tampa's top import and export commodities.

Val Pastore, Communications Director of the Tampa Port Authority, told FI of an interesting trend that has emerged in recent years, as the balance of the product shipped has changed. Formerly, Tampa exported far more phosphate rock raw material than finished product. Today, that balance has shifted in favour of value-added finished fertilizers and phosphoric acid. This has had a significant impact on the Port ofTampa, as in order to convert the phosphate rock raw material into finished fertilizers, the locally-based manufacturers have stepped up their imports ofthe anhydrous ammonia and sulphuric acid used to convert the phosphate rock into phosphoric acid and finished fertilizers.

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Agrium sets the pace

Summary

What makes Agrium run? Under the dynamic leadership of its President and CEO, John Van Brunt, scarcely a week passes without some announcement of a new Agrium enterprise. FI visited the company's offices in Calgary to find out more...

Abstract

Like a top-class athlete, Agrium Inc. jumped out of the blocks in April 1993, when it was first floated on the Toronto Exchange. Since then, the Calgary, Alberta-based company has set a scorching pace, announcing a continuing series of major investments in both its North American home base and most notably in the burgeoning South American market, in which Agrium has emerged as a leading player. Agrium has not simply set off on a high-speed dash, however: it has also matched its expansion programmes with sound financial management. Revenues have increased ten-fold since its shares were first traded four years ago; the company has an excellent cash base, which has underwritten the ongoing capital expenditure programme; the debt/equity ratio was a very low 0.41 in 1996; and the return on average invested capital is just under 18% making Agrium's stock understandably popular with the share tipsters!

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Cargill sets a gypsum standard

Summary

Cargill Fertilizer has earned considerable praise for its closure and transformation of a 60-year old gypsum stack. This article, based on the paper presented at the recent IFOC International Workshop in Atlanta by Edgar O. (Ozzie) Morris, Cargill Fertilize~s ManagerEnvironment, Health & Safety, and Dr. John E. Garlanger ofArdaman &Associates, describes the effectiveness of the decommissioning programme.

Abstract

Cargill Fertilizer has a long history ofnot just providing the fertilizers needed to boost agricultural productivitybut also innovatingnew products and processes that have become industry norms. The company's phosphate fertilizer complex at Riverview, Florida first opened in 1924. Since Cargill Inc., owner ofCargill Fertilizer, took over the plant in 1986, it has invested more than $175 million in capital improvements which have been designed to improve operations and reinforce its environmental safeguards. The same commitment and capital is being invested in the Bartow facility, which was acquired from Seminole Fertilizer Inc.

In the 1980s, the company was committed to the construction ofa new stateof- the-art gypsum field that would allow the storage and stacking of gypsum, protection of the environment, and meet the concerns ofthe surrounding community. This environmental innovation at the time set a new standard for the fertilizer industry's gypsum storage areas.

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