Daren Coppock, ARA President & Chief Executive Officer
Daren Coppock, ARA President & Chief Executive Officer

ARA and the Fertilizer Insitute (TFI) have been putting considerable effort over the past several months into a fertilizer code of practice to be known as ResponsibleAg.

Constructing it has been important and time-consuming effort, but equally important is communicating with the industry to keep everyone briefed and to collect suggestions along the way.

We have nearly 80 industry volunteers engaged in putting the program together and are receiving a good share of input, but we are always interested in suggestions for improvement.

WHAT IS RESPONSIBLEAG?

ResponsibleAg is envisioned to be a joint venture of ARA and TFI. It is intended to have a twofold mission:

1. Create a registration database of all fertilizer storage and distribution facilities, and

2. Provide a checklist of federal regulatory requirements for those facilities, audit facilities against that checklist, make the results available to the facility manager and allow suppliers of fertilizer products to know if that facility passed its audit prior to shipping product.

ARA actually began working on a Code of Practice for anhydrous ammonia back in February, when the ARA Board charged the organization to review the existing systems in Canada and elsewhere and to develop a model for the United States.

After the April 17, 2013, incident in West, Texas, TFI expressed interest in becoming a full partner in the project and the scope was broadened to include ammonium nitrate.

Specific checklists have been developed by industry workgroups for those two products. Since federal inspections are not product specific, the inspection scope will be for federal regulatory requirements that apply to fertilizer storage and distribution facilities. 

WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?

First, we want to prevent accidents. There is not a single person in our industry who wants to see another incident like the one that happened at West Fertilizer occur again in our business. If there is a practical way for the industry to reduce the risks of accidents for our employees, neighbors and customers, we owe it to them to do so.

Second, we want to help steward knowledge of regulatory requirements. There are varying levels of awareness, and it’s no wonder—the regulatory environment is very complex and sometimes even conflicting.

Testimony provided by the Texas Ag Industries Association indicated that many site managers thought that registering with the Texas State Chemist’s office satisfied their regulatory obligations to the federal Department of Homeland Security CFATS program and EPA’s Tier II reporting. As a result of this confusion, people who thought they were fully compliant turned out to be in violation of federal requirements. ResponsibleAg will consolidate the federal requirements into a single checklist, and then provide a non-regulatory audit of sites.

Third, we aim to demonstrate responsibility to regulators and the public. Although no amount of regulation can hope to prevent all disasters, it is our belief that compliance with existing regulations rather than writing more of them is where the focus should be.

If the industry proactively and effectively manages safety for fertilizer products, and through improved compliance is able to reduce the risk of accidents, regulators and legislators will not be justified in imposing additional regulations.

There are already several ideas being floated for additional regulations, such as adding ammonium nitrate to the EPA RMP list, onerous requirements for liability insurance, and imposition of OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard on fertilizer retailers. The statutory EPCRA exemption for retailers has already been rendered moot by EPA interpretations.

Finally, we’re trying to ensure continued access to products. Calls to ban certain products have been issued, and those calls are likely to get louder if we fail to manage the issue effectively.

WHAT’S IN IT FOR A RETAILER?

• Improved safety for employees, neighbors and customers. Being engaged in your local community also means doing everything possible to minimize the risks of our business.

• Going through a ResponsibleAg audit should help you be better prepared for a regulatory agency audit. A ResponsibleAg audit will be able to tell you where your facility is complying with federal regulations and where improvements are needed, without the enforcement action or fines that might accompany a regulatory audit.

• Demonstrate transparency with your neighbors and the public. The public is concerned about fertilizer safety after the West Fertilizer incident, and we need to demonstrate the steps that are being taken to ensure their safety.

• Demonstrate responsibility to regulators and legislators. Something will be done in response to the West incident. An industry-led solution will be more tailored to industry needs and more efficient than one constructed solely by regulators.

• Provide assurance to suppliers. Suppliers will be able to know that a site has passed its most recent ResponsibleAg audit.

• Continued access to products. Calls for bans on particular products will get louder if perceived risks are not effectively managed. ResponsibleAg’s hope is to maintain access to a broad array of fertilizer products for specific needs, but to do so, the industry must demonstrate strong stewardship. Otherwise, the “easy” solution will be to ban certain products.

• Level the playing field for all players. A priority for ResponsibleAg is to reach those outlets who might not be part of a state or national association or are unaware of all the federal regulatory requirements. Ensuring that these facilities are in compliance—in addition to the retailers who are engaged—will be a significant benefit to the entire industry. Diligent suppliers will be the key to making this happen.

HOW WILL IT WORK?

ResponsibleAg is consolidating the various federal regulatory requirements into one checklist, which should make compliance simpler for the retailer. Audits will be conducted according to the checklist.

By the end of 2013, we’ll have a registration system up and running. Suppliers (producers, importers, wholesale distributors, brokers) will need to register in order to access the list of facilities and associated audit scores. They will be able to know if the customer they’re delivering to is registered and whether they passed their most recent audit. Retailers will register their sites so they can be put on the audit calendar. Each location will receive a third-party audit on a specified schedule—currently expected to be every three years.

The first class of auditors will be trained and certified in 2014, after which a period of trial audits will be done. Actual audits will start after the trial period—the actual date has not yet been determined. At that point, here’s how the process is anticipated to work:

• ResponsibleAg will schedule audits for facilities. Once the audit is complete, the audit result will be uploaded into the ResponsibleAg database.

• The facility manager whose site was inspected will receive a report including recommended corrective actions for any areas of deficiency.

• Suppliers will be able to access the scoring for the audit—whether the facility passed—but not the specific details of the audit report.

• When a supplier is processing a sale to a facility, they can look on ResponsibleAg whether the site is registered and has passed its most recent audit.

WHAT GOES INTO THE CHECKLISTS?

Federal regulatory requirements are the only items that will have an impact on an audit score. If a state agribusiness association wants to add state-specific requirements to the ResponsibleAg checklist in their state, they will need to submit that request and be responsible for training inspectors on those issues and providing the checklist questions.

The responses from those will not be part of the ResponsibleAg audit score. There will also be some best management practices (BMPs) incorporated into the audit at the discretion of ResponsibleAg. BMPs will not affect the audit score.

WHAT WILL IT COST?

A final budget and business model have not yet been finalized. The plan at the moment is that the registration fees from storage and distribution outlets will be used to cover the cost of providing the triennial audit at that site—in other words, three years of registration fees would match the cost of doing the audit.

Registration fees from suppliers will be used to cover the management of the program. Final decisions on these and other governance points will be made this fall by the governing board of ResponsibleAg.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The Boards of ARA and TFI will consider action to approve a memorandum of understanding outlying core principles for establishing ResponsibleAg at their respective September business meetings. The entire membership of ARA will be provided an update report at the annual conference with a presentation on Wednesday, Dec. 4. Information is also available from either of the two associations. A ResponsibleAg website should be available by the end of the year.