Anhydrous application in jeopardy this spring

About 20 percent of prairie farmland relies on NH3 for its nitrogen source. However new rules might see 80 percent of tanks sitting this spring.  |  File photo

It appears the federal government might have used regulations to freeze up to 80 percent of the NH3 nurse tanks in Canada for this spring.

Approximately 20 percent of the cropped acres in Western Canada are fertilized with anhydrous ammonia, and most farmers and fertilizer dealers can’t make major operational changes in the remaining time before seeding starts.

An agreement in January, first reported in The Western Producer Jan. 18, that would have allowed a new testing protocol to begin after seeding this season, appears to have been withdrawn in February, for unknown reasons, potentially leaving farmers and industry in a precarious position, unable to fertilize crops with the equipment and pre-purchased nitrogen source they had chosen.

The two leading players representing the interests of farmers in this controversy have been the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers and Fertilizer Canada. On March 1, 2018, they sent Transport Canada an impact statement outlining the economic harm that will ensue if those tanks are not allowed to work this spring.

While no one from the three government departments involved, nor the industry representatives will agree to an interview about the situation or how it will be resolved, The Western Producer has learned through a confidential source that Transport Canada has been advised it needs to make public its decision by March 15 so the industry can advise producers of the situation.

The new regulations, which were first introduced in 2012, require the following must be done if allowed to come into force before seeding is completed:

Stress relieved tanks will remain on a five-year hydrostatic test cycle, but they must have a visual inspection every year. This accounts for nearly all tanks manufactured in Canada since 1992. Tanks from the United States and tanks manufactured before 1991 may not be stress relieved.

Tanks that are not stress relieved must go on a three-year hydrostatic test cycle. Thirty to 50 percent of those tanks will not be compliant with the new regulations this spring. Under the old criteria, approximately 40 percent of the entire fleet of tanks would have been hydro tested in 2013 and 2014. Because their cycle has been bumped from five years to three years, they are now non-compliant. That’s one area where the industry has asked for a temporary reprieve.

Visual inspections used to be conducted every time a tank was hydrostatically tested. A second visual inspection would be conducted 24 to 36 months later. Then, at the five-year point, the tank would get another hydrostatic test and visual inspection.

Under the new regulations, every tank needs a visual inspection every year, whether it’s stress relieved or non-stress relieved. A dealer would normally hydrostatically test 20 percent of its fleet every year, in which case that portion of those fleets are now legal for the spring of 2018.

This leaves up to 80 percent of all tanks ineligible for use this spring, according to the current Transport Canada ruling.

Sources close to the subject say there are not enough people with the training and qualifications to conduct visual inspections on 80 percent of all NH3 tanks in Canada. If those people have the qualifications, they are already employed in the fertilizer business, and spring is their busy season. They would not be available to perform the inspections, which take place at certified facilities, also often the dealerships. Inspection companies are not large enough to accommodate the needed work, say industry representatives.

The Dangerous Goods Act requires the tanks be certified, and filling them without this certification can result in fines up to $50,000 and would generally violate the terms of most liability insurance contracts.

“Transport Canada is aware of the situation and is in discussions with Fertilizer Canada and the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers,” Annie Joannette of media relations at Transport Canada said in an email.

“Transport Canada is also aware of the timing and operational requirements regarding fertilization of fields using nurse tanks, and the department is reviewing the matter.”

CAAR executive director Mitch Rezansoff would not comment on the current discussions or what has been put in front of Transport Canada but said both industry groups are asking for a delay in implementation until this summer, after seeding is complete.

“We’re requesting relief of the requirements for this spring,” said Rezansoff.

“All the way through, we’ve been working with Transport Canada for a positive resolution. Our goal is that all the anhydrous tanks that are full right now can be used this spring.

“Doing visual inspections right now is very difficult. The tanks are all full of anhydrous ammonia and they’re covered with frost. But it’s not just frost that you can scrape. It’s ice. The warm and cold cycles causes a fair bit of ice to build up on the tanks.

“The other weather factor is temperatures. Even though the tank is full, the pressure is too low. You need the ambient temperature to be at least 15 degrees to get an accurate pressure reading. So it’s just not possible to test these tanks in the winter.

“If there is no resolution by March 15, then the industry will have to make some tough decisions about what to do if farmers cannot access the entire fleet of anhydrous ammonia nurse and applicator tanks this spring.

“CAAR, Fertilizer Canada and Transport Canada are aware that neither industry nor the farmers who depend on anhydrous ammonia can simply switch over to granular or liquid fertilizers. The volume, inventory and production, the logistics of fertilizer, cannot be easily flipped to different forms.”


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