NH3 cart ownership now more expensive for dealers and growers, but the new rules improve safety for all users
Transport Canada recently released new regulations governing anhydrous ammonia nurse tanks. One of the biggest changes comes in the form of greater attention being paid to the wagon itself.
“And for good reason. Some of the trailers we’ve had to work on are rolling hazards,” said Ray Redfern, proprietor of Redfern Farm Services, which encompasses a dozen outlets in southwestern Manitoba.
Redfern said fertilizer dealers in general seem to agree the recent changes are another step in the direction for a safer anhydrous ammonia industry.
“Fertilizer Canada manages the Ammonia Code of Practice, and they regulate anhydrous ammonia trailers. Last year, they had us implement our first real inspection on the structural integrity of the trailer the tank rides on. Wagons must now be re-certified every three years. When we started taking apart the front breach assemblies, we saw a lot more wear on the bolsters and fifth wheel plates than we expected.
“Some of the pins were in pretty bad shape. It usually comes down to the style of the wagon. Some are designed better than others. We had about a half-dozen wagons in the shop last year that required $4,000 to have them re-built for re-certification. The work has to be done by a qualified machine shop. We only charge about $100 for an inspection, but the real cost comes when work is required.”
When it comes to trailer safety, Redfern likes to do all the wagon work in-house. His technicians are qualified to work on the equipment, and he said there’s a better check on quality.
“More and more dealers are finding the responsibility of keeping their trailers and tanks in compliance just too onerous. Even my own people chafe at this. If they sign off on a wagon or tank, they are responsible for it. We worry about our own people and their responsibility for certification of a wagon. If something ever went wrong, if somebody had an accident, will the technician be legally responsible?”
Farmers owning their own nurse tanks may also find new safety standards too rigorous and may decide to sell. The Catch-22 is that if too many producers decide this spring to get out of owning nurse tanks, who will buy them? These will generally be the smaller tanks, for which the market is shrinking.
Redfern said some smaller tanks may be advertised at bargain basement prices, but when potential buyers see what it will cost to re-certify the tanks, they may decide not to buy.
“I think the only farmers who will keep their own nurse tanks will be the minority. They’ll partner up with their retailer and let him use the tank and regularly keep it up to date on all the standards. In our organization, I’d say there’s only about five or six percent of customers who own their own tanks. Half those tanks remain with us and we certify them.
“It’s not only a matter of compliance, but the entire technology is changing, And everything must be certified. It’s especially true with farmers doing variable rate ammonia. Most cultivators now have a cooler. More of the ammonia comes out as a liquid because it’s de-pressurized and kept cold. Less comes out in the vapor form. These are complex systems our technicians need to master.”
Tanks larger than 10,000 litres and twinned tanks now must have emergency shut-downs systems. Realizing in 2020 this upgrade was coming in 2021, Redfern stayed one step ahead. Last year, he outfitted each of his tanks in all dealers, with a cable-activated manual shutdown that automatically pulls itself open. Since then Transport Canada has mandated electric shutoffs, making his manual valves already obsolete. He said that in addition to the safety factor, there’s another strong upside to strict re-certification protocol.
“Tanks have an amazingly long life, as long as they’re re-certified according to Transport Canada’s criteria. There have been so few failures or events caused by the structure of the tank itself. The valving might be an issue. The condition of a tank exterior can be an issue. It has to be kept painted so inspectors can see if there’s structural cracks. But if everything is done by the book, a tank can last decades.”
Redfern said there are a number organizations who are not dealers but they can manage tanks and keep them legal. One such company is Red River NH3 Solutions in Winnipeg. Red River is a registered Transport Canada inspection facility that offers inspections and repairs to TC 51 nurse tank containers and TC 331 transport delivery tank containers.
There are several others such as Maxfield in Brandon and in the Winnipeg area there are Dyterra at Headingley and Canadian Spectrum in Transcona.