November 17th, 2014

"Executive Summary:

On April 17, 2013, ten emergency first responders (ranging in age from 26 to 52 and all male) were killed when a burning fertilizer plant containing an estimated 40 to 60 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded just outside the city limits. The explosion occurred less than 20 minutes after the emergency responders arrived on-scene. The victims included 5 volunteer fire fighters with the city’s volunteer fire department, and 4 volunteer fire fighters from 3 neighboring volunteer fire departments who were attending an emergency medical services (EMS) class in the city. One off-duty career fire captain and two civilians who responded to offer assistance to the volunteer fire department were also killed by the explosion. The victims were among a number of first responders engaged in fire suppression and support activities and were in close proximity to the burning structure when the explosion occurred. Five other volunteer fire fighters with the city’s fire department were injured. The two civilians were providing non-suppression support to the fire department when they were killed by the blast. Three civilians living nearby also died as the result of the blast.

Contributing Factors
•Non-recognition of the hazards associated with ammonium nitrate
•Limited pre-incident planning of commercial facility
•Fire quickly spread to an un-controllable size
•Approximately 40-60 tons of solid ammonium nitrate unexpectedly detonated
•Responders working within blast radius at time of explosion
•Large non-sprinklered, wood construction, commercial structure."

Read more from The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

November 10th, 2014

"The Asmark Institute hosted a dedication ceremony to commemorate the launch of the Ford B. West Center for Responsible Agriculture on October 27 in Owensboro, KY. Named after the former President of The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), who retired in 2013 after 34 years of service to TFI, the facility will be used as a national training and education center for personnel employed in the agricultural nutrient industry.


“Ford B. West is known throughout the U.S. for his impeccable integrity, tireless work ethic and an inherent ability to quickly dissect complicated issues into a simple plan of action,” said Allen Summers, President of the Asmark Institute. “It is very fitting that we honor him by creating a first-of-its-kind learning center that advances safety and compliance for the ag industry.”

Among other programs planned for the new facility will be the training of auditors to implement ResponsibleAg, an industry-led effort to assist agricultural retailers with compliance on a myriad of federal environmental, health, safety and security regulations."

Read more from Crop Life.

October 13th, 2014

"In Kenya, where he works with small farmers, Daniel Maingi “failed miserably” in his attempts to connect with agricultural organizations funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

So he and fellow African activists from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia are bringing their message to Seattle, headquarters of the world’s richest philanthropy. At a Town Hall event Sunday, The Global Struggle for Food Sovereignty, they will argue that the foundation’s push for a “Green Revolution” in Africa is a flawed attempt to impose industrial agriculture at the expense of more ecologically sound approaches to farming.

Some of the visitors, including Maingi, will meet with staff at the Gates Foundation. But it won’t be the high-level gathering he had hoped for.

“At least we tried,” Maingi said.

The Gates Foundation spends nearly $400 million a year on programs to improve production and income for African farmers. Since 2006, the foundation has funneled nearly $420 million to its flagship agricultural initiative, a collaboration called the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, or AGRA.

But the foundation’s outsized spending and influence have raised concerns in Africa, just as some American educators have become alarmed over the foundation’s influence on the U.S. education system.

“It’s important that these voices be heard,” said Heather Day, of Seattle-based AGRA Watch/Community Alliance for Global Justice, an organizer of the Town Hall event and a five-day summit between African and American organizations seeking to persuade the Gates Foundation to change course.

While the goal of helping African farmers is laudable, the “Green Revolution” approach is based on Western-style agriculture, with its reliance on fertilizer, weed killers and single crops, such as corn, Maingi said.

But much of Africa is so dry that it’s not suited for thirsty crops, and heavy use of fertilizer kills worms and microbes important for soil health. “The model of farming in the West is not appropriate for farming in most of Africa,” Maingi said."

Read more from

October 6th, 2014

Despite being, arguably, the most important natural resource in the Midwest, the Great Lakes remain extremely vulnerable to natural and man-made pollution. Though algae blooms are a naturally occurring phenomenon, recent blooms in Lake Erie are so extreme that people in parts of Canada and Ohio have been instructed not to use their water for drinking or recreational purposes.

Lyman Welch, Water Quality Director of the Alliance of the Great Lakes, explains that though the blooms are naturally occurring, the extremely high levels and resulting negative implications of recent blooms are both human induced and reversible.

"We've had a history in the Great Lakes of algae, which grows naturally," Welch explains. "But when we have excessive amounts of nutrients in the water, mainly from agricultural runoff, it feeds the algae, and we'll get a large algae bloom."

In addition to affecting wildlife and water quality, the algae washes up and accumulates on shores, detracting from the natural beauty and keeping people away from certain destinations.

Lake Erie is the shallowest of the five Great Lakes, reaching depths no greater than 20 feet in many areas. The shallow basin allows water temperatures to fluctuate more easily and quickly. As the warmest of all the Great Lakes, Lake Erie is particularly susceptible to the formation of the blooms.

"The short depths combined with the warmer waters and introductions of invasive species like zebra mussels have contributed to larger algae blooms in recent years," Welch explains. "The main element that causes algae is the nutrient input, which we have control over. Excess nutrients are coming into the lake from several states and are the largest source contributing to this problem, with phosphorous as the main culprit."

Read more from Michigan Live.

October 2nd, 2014

"The Environmental Protection Agency announced that it remains “committed to biofuels” and that its goal is to put the renewable fuels program “on a path that supports continued growth.”

Let me translate that into English: “We’re cutting back on the ethanol mandate, mainly because of pressure from the oil industry, but we’ll pretend that the program is still full speed ahead because we don’t need any backlash from ethanol investors.”

The proposed cuts to the Renewable Fuel Standard from 18.15 billion gallons of biofuels to 15.21 billion gallons in 2014 represent a win for the oil industry, which has made no secret of its intention to force repeal of the biofuel mandate. Of course, the industry’s argument that adding 10% ethanol to motor vehicle fuels places “a crippling financial burden on refiners” is a crock. But like the ethanol industry, they’re simply protecting their interests.

The American Petroleum Institute urged the Obama administration to finalize the 2014 rule as quickly as possible, warning that delays could “harm consumers” and make it “harder to produce the fuels Americans need.”


This battle began in November 2013, when EPA officials issued a draft rule significantly reducing federal requirements for use of ethanol and biodiesel in U.S. fuel supplies. Predictably, the biofuel industry warned that unless EPA reversed course, disaster would ensue."

Read more from Ag Professional

September 30th, 2014

"A truck transporting ammonium nitrate has exploded in South West Queensland, destroying bridges, sections of the road, and two firefighting trucks.

The vehicle was reportedly carrying more than 50 tonnes of AN when it rolled, just south of Charleville, late on Friday night, according to the ABC.

Ammonium nitrate is a key ingredient in creating explosives.

The truck initially caught fire, and had firefighters attempting to extinguish the blaze, when it exploded, injuring eight people.

Luckily the driver was pulled from the truck immediately after the initial roll over occurred, with no one being injured in the subsequent blast.

"As I understand the auxiliaries performed a snatch and grab (of the driver), they witnessed certain fire activities which gave the indication they needed to get out as soon as they could," chief superintendent for the south west region Lindsay Hackett explained, according to the Toowoomba Chronicle.

It is understood that the blast itself was caused after fuel leaked into the ammonium nitrate load.

“We've had a primary and a secondary explosion out there - it's quite a devastating scene," assistant fire commissioner for the south west region Tom Dawson told the ABC."

Read more from Australian Mining.

September 10th, 2014

A toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie this summer left the city of Toledo, Ohio, without drinking water for three days. Now environmentalists and farmers are working to prevent future blooms by evaluating fertilizer use in hopes of cutting excess runoff. Special correspondent Christy McDonald of Detroit Public Television reports on how drones may be a tool for maximizing crops and minimizing pollution.


"GWEN IFILL: Now, in the aftermath of the water quality emergency that plagued Lake Erie last month, some residents who live along its shores are calling for solutions.  And they are looking outward, to the countryside.

Reporter Christy McDonald of Detroit Public Television has our story.

CHRISTY MCDONALD: Farmer Jeff Sandborn thinks this drone could help solve the tainted water problem that left Toledo, Ohio without access to safe drinking water for three days earlier this summer.  That’s because experts believe the toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie that turned tap water noxious was caused by the fertilizer runoff from farms like Sandborn’s throughout the Great Lakes Basin.

JEFF SANDBORN, Owner, Sandborn Farms: We only have so much land that can grow crops, productive crops.  And this planet continues to have more people on it, so we have to do a better job on the land we have and get more out of the resources we put in, get higher yields to feed more people, is what it boils down to.  We’re here to feed an ever-growing population.

CHRISTY MCDONALD: Unfortunately, pressure to increase food production can have a negative impact on the environment, and, today, many are convinced Lake Erie’s problem starts on the farm.

Fertilizers that feed crops, like nitrogen and phosphorus, also feed the blue-green algae in the water.  Experts believe changes in farming practices have led to an increased amount of phosphorus runoff in recent years.

Kristy Meyer works for the Ohio Environmental Council, an advocacy group, where part of her time is spent sharing with other farmers best management practices for controlling runoff."

Read More From PBS News Hour

September 3rd, 2014

"African ministers and business leaders have gathered in Ethiopia to consider ways to trigger a green revolution and improve the continent's food security.

The African Green Revolution Forum, being held in Addis Ababa, will focus on delivering agriculture-led economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa.

In June, the Africa Union issued a declaration to double food productivity and halve poverty by 2025.

Almost 1,000 delegates are expected to attend the four-day meeting.

"I am proud that many African nations are becoming economic powerhouses, but without a viable agricultural sector and a strong rural economy, there cannot be a viable future for Africa," warned International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) president Kanayo Nwanze.

"Scaling up productivity in African agriculture so that it contributes to the prosperity of the women and men living in rural areas is an absolute prerequisite of prosperity for our continent."

Figures show that 200 million Africans are chronically malnourished and five million people die each year as a result of hunger.

It was against this stark backdrop that heads of state and government attending the 23rd African Union Summit adopted the Malabo Declaration, which included a call for a greater effort to accelerate agricultural growth."


Read more from BBC News, Science, and Environment

August 27th, 2014

"The world is headed "down a dangerous path" with disruption of the food system possible within a decade as climate change undermines nations' ability to feed themselves, according to a senior World Bank official.

Rising urban populations are contributing to expanded demand for meat, adding to nutrition shortages for the world's poor. Increased greenhouse gas emissions from livestock as well as land clearing will make farming more marginal in many regions, especially in developing nations, said Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group Vice President and special envoy for climate change.

"The challenges from waste to warming, spurred on by a growing population with a rising middle-class hunger for meat, are leading us down a dangerous path," Professor Kyte told the Crawford Fund 2014 annual conference in Canberra on Wednesday.

"Unless we chart a new course, we will find ourselves staring volatility and disruption in the food system in the face, not in 2050, not in 2040, but potentially within the next decade," she said, according to her prepared speech.

Agriculture and land-use change account for about 30 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming. Feed quality can be so low in arid parts of Africa, where livestock typically graze on marginal land and crop residues, that every kilo of protein produced can contribute the equivalent of one tonne of carbon dioxide - or 100 times more than in developed nations, Professor Kyte said."

August 25th, 2014

With the steady drain of essential nutrients from African soils looming as a major threat to food security across the continent, a new report released today finds that over the last five years, 1.7 million African farmers in 13 countries have embraced farming practices that have rejuvenated 1.6 million hectares and helped them double or even triple crop yields.

The analysis from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) focuses on intensive efforts initiated five years ago to move aggressively to support smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, where a lack of agriculture extension services and a scarcity of basic soil supplements have contributed to severely depressed yields for crucial staples like maize, banana and cassava.

While farmers in many parts of the world regularly harvest up to five tons of maize per hectare (about 2.5 acres), African farmers typically harvest one ton. Overall, depleted soils cost African farmers US$4 billion each year in lost productivity.

“We’ve shown that it’s possible to work on a very large scale to help smallholder farmers adopt sustainable and profitable approaches to crop production, with the proof there for all to see in the form of significantly larger yields,” said Dr. Bashir Jama, director of AGRA’s Soil Health Program.

The new evidence of success in addressing what many agriculture experts view as the most significant soil health crisis in the world comes in the wake of a June summit in Equatorial Guinea during which the leaders of African Union member countries pledged to significantly step up their support for the continent’s long neglected agriculture sector.

Read More From All Africa