By TIM ALEXANDER
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — There is no training requirement for farmers who take possession of NH3 (liquid anhydrous ammonia) in Illinois and elsewhere.
But with the chemical industry under pressure to improve safety training for farmer-customers who purchase NH3, the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA), along with the Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Assoc. (IFCA) and others, has developed an online program featuring an assessment farmers can take to assure their knowledge of ammonia safety.
The 30- to 40-minute free test is being offered on a voluntary basis in an effort to prove Illinois farmers’ stewardship of their lands. A certificate can be downloaded by farmers who complete the assessment, according to Jerry Kirbach, bureau chief of IDOA’s Ag Products Inspection department.
“The certificate shows competency and a willingness to be diligent. It also shows (farmers) are properly equipped to handle the product,” said Kirbach, who listed improper management of ammonia hoses, failure to maintain safety devices on toolbars and improperly secured tanks as the primary sources of mishaps when farmers are in control of ammonia.
Though the IFCA stated in an “Items of Interest” newsletter to members on March 27 that statistics from the IDOA show an increase in ammonia accidents in Illinois by farmers in the last several years, Kirbach would not confirm accidents are on the rise or provide hard statistics for NH3 mishaps by Illinois producers.
“It’s more a change in the technology; equipment is getting bigger and the application devices are getting much bigger. So, the tanks are being reconfigured,” he said. “Some of the smaller tanks are pulled in tandem or end to end in the field, requiring a long hose – 30 feet maximum – from the tank to the toolbar.
“Sometimes (operators) can run over and cut the hoses and release ammonia. Managing the hoses and tank configuration is important.”
Anhydrous usage by farmers is already somewhat heavily regulated, with the Department of Transportation overseeing nurse tank standards, the Environmental Protection Agency setting release requirements and the IDOA in charge of equipment standards.
The IFCA sees its new NH3 assessment tool as a way for farmers to show environmentalists and government agencies they can be self-compliant in practicing safe handling of chemicals and land stewardship.
“This is a concerted effort to provide training, free of charge, in a voluntary manner to demonstrate our industry’s commitment to safety,” said Kevin Runkle, IFCA manager for regulatory services. “This innovative new program features video, animation and online information pertaining to ammonia properties, protective equipment, equipment hook-up, safe transportation and emergency response.”
IFCA is asking ag retailers to let their customers know of the availability of the program, to increase awareness and reduce ammonia accidents in Illinois, which Kirbach agreed are the main objectives of the initiative.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to raise awareness and reduce incidents. We tried to take the incidents we track and include them as things to (avoid) in the program,” he said.
“When not handled properly, anhydrous ammonia can cause serious injury and impact the environment,” added Bob Flider, IDOA director, in a news release announcing the program. “I encourage farmers who apply their own ammonia to use the program, take the knowledge assessment and self-certify that they are trained to safely handle this product.”
The assessment, which is funded by the Illinois Nutrient Research & Education Council, can be accessed through the following websites: www.ifca.com or www.ilcorn.org or www.ilfb.org or www.agr.state.il.us