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Publication > Issue > Articles

Argentina: time to fulfil the promises

Summary

As an increasingly sophisticated agricultural sector spearheads the country's economic growth, it is timely to examine the investments being made in Argentina's supply and distribution of fertilizers.

Abstract

As the eighth largest country in the world by area, Argentina benefits from rich natural resources, a diversified industrial base, and an increasingly export-oriented agricultural sector. The latter contributed 9.4% to Argentina’s GDP of $524 billion in 2007 and employs 8% of the labour force. Soybeans are Argentina’s principal export, accounting for 24% of the 2007 total export value of $56 billion. Cereals (mainly maize and wheat) contributed 8% and processed agricultural goods 25%. With an estimated GDP growth last year of 8.7%, Argentina would at first sight appear to be in good economic health.

Historically, Argentina’s economic performance has been very uneven, with periods of rapid growth fuelled by foreign investment being followed by recession, decline and a loss of investor confidence. In the first century of Argentina’s existence as an independent nation, the rural economy was almost entirely devoted to subsistence farming and the raising of livestock, which benefited from Argentina’s mild climate. Cattle and sheep ranches rose to the fore, and their exports became the country’s almost sole source of foreign exchange.

Crop agriculture remained labour intensive during this period and languished through an acute shortage of labour and poor agronomic practices. A wave of immigration in the first half of the 20th century provided an influx of manpower that helped to put cereal farming on a stronger footing, resulting in a more diversified basis for foreign trade. However, structural weaknesses remained, exacerbated by Argentina’s long-standing political volatility and the ebb and flow of overseas capital on which the country’s economy depended. As an exporter of agricultural commodities, Argentina’s economy was particularly vulnerable to volatile prices in world markets.

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Reviving fortunes in Central America

Summary

Agriculture is a key sector in the economies of the countries that make up the Central American isthmus, and the region enjoys a high profile in the global markets for coffee, bananas and sugar cane. However, even once Central America began to enjoy an extended period of political stability after earlier upheavals, the region has remained vulnerable in economic terms especially when world market prices for coffee and bananas plummeted in the early years of the present century. This article assesses how Central America could achieve high prosperity helped by the effective use of fertilizers.

Abstract

Central America – the isthmus connecting the main body of North America with the South American continent – is made up of seven countries: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the south west, the Gulf of Mexico to the north and the Caribbean to the north east. The region has an area of around 592,000 km2 and a population of more than 37 million. Agriculture is important to all the economies of the countries of Central America. The climate is predominantly sub-tropical, which is particularly favourable to the growth of bananas, coffee and cotton. However, the region is geologically active, with volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occurring from time to time. Fertile soils from weathered volcanic lava have sustained agriculture, especially within the mountain regions.

Central America is also climatically volatile, lying within the hurricane belt, which have caused considerable damage where they have struck. The region is vulnerable to flooding and landslips, and these have affected agriculture within the region.

Table 1 summarises the relative importance of agriculture in the economies of the countries of Central America.

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Control options for your fertilizer plant

Summary

The demand for increasingly higher product quality specifications and more reliable production runs puts Advanced Process Control technology in the spotlight. Some APC success stories are described here.

Abstract

Modern process plants, designed for flexible production and to maximise recovery of energy and material, are becoming more complex. Process units are tightly coupled and the failure or suboptimal performance of one unit can seriously degrade overall productivity. To counter these potential problems, the concept of Advanced Process Control (APC) has gained a major foothold in process industries during the past 2-3 decades, particularly in refineries and petrochemical processes. Its value is also being recognised within the fertilizer industry, especially in the context of the need to save energy costs and produce more and to produce higher quality products.

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Pacific Northwest Gateways

Summary

A look at the ports in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon states that handle fertilizers and associated raw materials.

Abstract

The Pacific North West of North America offers a wide range of deepwater ports which provide a vital trade bridge between the United States and Canada and their trading partners across the Pacific Ocean, of which China is now the most important. The North American Pacific Coast ports serve a very large internal hinterland, extending to the East Coast, as capacity constraints with the Panama Canal compel many shippers to rely on the main line rail networks offered by the US companies Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific, and by Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railway. Competition between the Pacific Northwest Gateway ports is very intense, and each is investing substantially in improving channel drafts and port facilities to enhance its competitive advantages. Some of the more notable ports are described here.

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Phosphates by the surf

Summary

The Central Florida Section of AIChE held its 32nd Annual Clearwater Conference at the familiar and welcoming venue of the Sheraton Sand Key Resort, once again examining current issues in sulphuric and phosphoric acid operations and technology. The meeting remains a unique forum for the exchange of ideas and viewpoints and an outstanding social occasion too.

Abstract

The annual AIChE Clearwater Conference offers a thoroughly well-proven formula: provide a forum for the best and brightest in the sulphuric acid and phosphates industries, all in a relaxed, family-friendly ambiance by Florida’s Sunshine Coast. The meeting regularly attracts around 250 participants and in addition to the opportunities to exchange ideas during the sessions and the refreshment breaks, participants have the further chance to meet in the evenings and enjoy the hospitality of companies supplying equipment, engineering and specialised products to the phosphate and sulphuric acid industry.

This year’s Clearwater meeting was held on Friday and Saturday, 6-7 June and consisted of two half-day sessions. The Friday afternoon session was the Annual Sulphuric Acid Workshop – now in its 11th year - and was again chaired by Rick Davis and Jim Dougherty. The topic was the Design, Operation and Maintaining of Gas-to-Gas Heat Exchangers, and the workshop took the form of presentations from key industry players and a panel discussion.

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GSL - a tale of 15,000 years

Summary

Compass Minerals International is the second leading salt producer in the United States, but also has an impressive potassium sulphate portfolio via its subsidiary, Great Salt Lake Minerals Corporation. A major expansion of the company's capacity is currently under way.

Abstract

Great Salt Lakes Minerals Corporation (GSL) is riding high. As a key member of Compass Minerals International (CMP), the speciality fertilizer subsidiary has just posted a 50% jump in sales revenues in the first half of 2008, at $101.6 million, compared with $67.6 million in the same period in 2007. The rise in market prices for potassium sulphate underlies much of this growth in revenues, but GSL identifies a substantial growth in volumes too and in a recent conference call with the investment community, Angelo Brisimitzakis, President and CEO of Compass Minerals, forecasted that GSL will enjoy a 5% increase in sales volumes in the full 2008 year. Since 2001, GSL has enjoyed a revenue compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26%.

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Potash the new gold?

Summary

A further rush of new projects has been announced. What are the chances of them all coming to fruition? Here we focus on the latest developments in the potash-rich province of Saskatchewan.

Abstract

As this issue went to press, the world’s biggest mining company, BHP Billiton, announced annual results that broke fresh records. The full-year attributable profit rose by 12% to $15.4 billion, as BHP benefited from strong demand in China, cut costs and focused on high-margin growth projects. This was the seventh consecutive year of record profits for BHP. (Financial Times, 18 August 2008) As reported elsewhere in this issue, BHP is currently locked in a fierce battle to take over its rival mining giant, Rio Tinto. The latter company has been able to mount a spirited resistance for a full 12 months since BHP declared its acquisitive intentions, but Marius Kloppers, CEO of BHP Billiton, was sufficiently emboldened by the latest financial results to declare that his company’s proposed take-over makes “more sense than ever.”

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Upgrading rock performance the double challenge

Summary

While phosphate fertilizer producers have invested heavily in providing a wide range of high-analysis products and major improvements in product quality, they face the challenge of having to work with rock of ever deteriorating quality. This trend is already apparent and is expected to worsen during the next decade as reserves of better quality rock become depleted. What can be done to ensure that product quality is maintained while harnessing lower-grade phosphate rock to meet the rising global demand for phosphate fertilizers?

Abstract

While one potential consequence of the declining availability of better quality rock could be a loosening in the specifications of standard grades of finished product, it is clear that technology will continue to be developed to concentrate low-analysis, high-impurity phosphates as well as to process these resulting concentrates into finished fertilizers. (Future Trends in the Phosphate Industry, Don Clark, Mosaic Fertilizer LLC. Paper presented at 2006 IFA Technical Symposium, Vilnius.)

Deteriorating rock quality and changing customer requirements represent a double challenge to the leading suppliers. While they seek a technological route to reconcile these diametrically opposed factors, phosphate mining and processing technologies have not advanced appreciably during the past few decades: the most notable advances have centred in making more of the same products at a lower cost, as exemplified by the use of hemi-hydrate and hemi-di process technology in the production of phosphoric acid.

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North American outlook: don't panic!

Summary

Will 2009 be another banner year for the North American fertilizer industry?

Abstract

At first sight, as The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) holds its showpiece World Fertilizer Conference in Seattle, the prospects for the North American fertilizer industry could scarcely be better. The leading producers have been reporting record quarterly results, and the outlook for demand for all the primary fertilizer nutrients is extraordinary, not only for the next few quarters but for several years ahead. Thus, global phosphate use is projected to increase by 24% or 8.9 million tonnes P2O5 from 2006 to 2012, while global potash use is forecast to increase during the same period by 30% or 10.0 million tonnes K2O. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for phosphates is estimated at between 3-3.5%, compared with the 1.9% CAGR recorded between the period from 1995 to 2005, while a similar CAGR growth applies to potash (contrasting with an average 2.3%/year between 1995 and 2005).

This year has seen further sustained growth in the world prices for all fertilizers and associated raw materials (Fig. 1), and further significant gains were recorded during July and August, confounding expectations that momentum would be lost during the quieter summer months.

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