Friday, April 19, 2013

Transparency in Agriculture has its Challenges

I have been told many times that when it comes to telling the story of agriculture that I must remember,  "I am an expert in only one thing.... ME." I am not an expert in much of anything once I leave my farm. The technical side of farming gets so complicated so quickly that I just have to focus on what I know, and what I know is...ME.

I have not thought to much about the explosion in West Texas and what it meant to me until I saw this vidoe clip of the damage to the town.!/photo.php?v=10200514577483578&set=vb.1132088248&type=2&theater

The aftermath is scary to see.

West Texas arial picture (source unknown)

That started me thinking about my town, and towns just like mine, all across the plains of the United States. How many towns have a facility something like this one nearby?

Trupointe fertilizer distribution facility in our town

the size and cleanliness are both impressive

Located on the outskirts of town

I know it houses dry fertilizer and annhydrous ammonia. I have been to the open house. I have seen my neighbors picking up product here. I wonder, "Can this place explode too?" So I searched the Trupointe websight for answers. All I got was a phone number. So I called the phone number. And got this press release:

Our thoughts and prayers are with those in West, Texas as the scope of the devastation from a blast of a fertilizer plant unfolds.
We want to assure you that Trupointe takes utmost precautions to prevent incidents like these, as our locations are permitted and regularly inspected, being compliant with OSHA and EPA requirements. With a team of four employees who focus daily on the safety of the company, facilities, employees and the communities we are a part of, it is easily stated that safety comes first. Safety is part of the culture at Trupointe, being one of the seven values the company stands upon.

Every conversation was helpful, polite, and professional.

This didn't satisfy me, so I made some more phone calls. What I learned was what I know to be true.

A) there are ALOT of different fertilizer combinations in common practice. Go to the local garden supply store and start looking at the selection just for your yard

B) it is unknown at this time what was in the Texas facility and what happened

C) these facilities are operated, regulated and inspected with safety as a foremost concern (see press release above).

D) as a responsible business Trupointe must be very cautious in making statements that would jeopardize national/local security, mislead the public, give away competitive information, and on and on.

E) there is a very strong possibility that the product/process that is eventually blamed in the Texas disaster has never been in our local facility. After all southwestern Ohio is a completely different agricultural environment than west Texas. Crops, soils, climate, are all different therefore the fertilizer in storge is likely very different.

Having chased this conversation about as far as civility could carry it, I suggested that the websight could be enhanced with some pictures and links that would allow the public to better understand, in a generic way, what the facility does. I have asked that Trupointe consider creating some posts that I can use on facebook to better tell their story for them. I will try to pass along new information as it becomes available.

I hope all this is helpful to my local community and perhaps many of those scattered across the plains of the United States. I expect you will be getting the same answers to the same questions.

I apologize for making this post all about ME, but that is all I am an expert on.

Thanks for your thoughts

Update: 4/22/13

I spoke to a local (S. Charleston, volunteer)  fire fighter about the Trupointe facility. He had personally been involved in an inspection and review of the facility just two weeks ago and was impressed with all the safety designs and procedures that are in place. He pointed out that the challenge of these industrial type/size fires is that they completely overwhelm the resources of the local firefighting/EMS community. Response times are too slow, backup is too far away, training is not extensive enough, specialized equipment is none existent, etc. This was not a criticism or complaint, just a cold hard fact of rural life.