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Ag retailers keep security top priority

You won't be seeing ex-members of the Delta Force guarding fertilizer and chemical plants in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But you likely will see a more proactive approach to security at the facilities, according to a speaker at the second annual meeting of the National Pesticide Stewardship Alliance, held in Memphis recently.

“Security and the fundamental culture of security has been an integral part of the crop protection industry for a long time,” said Rick Yabroff, with United Ag Products. “So many of the products and materials and products we use are hazardous materials. They are highly regulated and many of them are very expensive.

“As an industry, we have done a good job of educating and training our employees to not be casual with these products, to use them very deliberately and to wear the proper protective equipment. That helps in developing and thinking about security.”

In addition, “many chemical and fertilizer supply facilities are in small communities. The idea that someone would walk in with a lot of cash and attempt to buy a truckload of ammonium nitrate would immediately raise a lot of suspicion. The message around the industry is, ‘know your customer.’”

While measures to prevent theft and misuse of hazardous materials have been in place for some time now, the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks have prompted many companies to start documenting their security methods, putting them in a plan and looking at ways to improve them, according to Yabroff.

“I think there is going to be a lot more focus on developing security management plans,” Yabroff said. “We're trying to create more of a process where Step 1 may be identifying your most critical materials and Step 2 may be the accessibility of those materials. But each facility is going to be a little different.”

On the other hand, members of the ag chemical industry are not necessarily trained to grasp the most important part of any security plan — putting yourself in the mind of a criminal or terrorist wanting to breach that security.

For that reason, “We're encouraging all our facility managers to involve their local law enforcement to help identify some of the vulnerable areas,” Yabroff said.

Where are some current vulnerabilities? That's not something the public is going to know until those problems have been corrected, Yabroff noted. “We don't want to educate a criminal or terrorist about potential security problems” while those problems still exist.

Weary of regulation

Wendell Stratton, an ag retailer and chairperson of the Agricultural Retailers Association, told attendees of the conference that not all federal regulations accomplish their intended purposes.

“Our workers are expected to wear all these garments to protect themselves in 95 degree temperatures and 100 percent humidity. How much common sense is that? But that's what we're doing. I can't keep people because of the regulations.”

Stratton added that regulations haven't kept up with changes in the chemical industry.

“We don't have to go to those extremes. We're handling stuff today that is not near as dangerous as it used to be. We have come a long way in this industry in the past 30 years.”

Stratton noted that today's more litigious society is also driving up costs, especially insurance. “We have gotten to the point where regulation, legislation and all the rules we live under, we expect things to be made right. And if somebody makes a mistake, somebody else expects to get paid for it.

“What happened to the good old days when it was recognized that we're not perfect, that it is part of our being to make mistakes. And we gave people latitude to make mistakes. Today, I see a real intolerance.”

Stratton told federal regulators attending the conference, “I hope everyone realizes that as we face these challenges, we can only accomplish what needs to be accomplished if we work together. I ask you to keep some of those things in mind.”

According to Rob Denny, program administrator for the Ag Container Recycling Council, the two-year old NPSA is the ideal vehicle to address the aforementioned issues.

“NPSA was born out of a number of people seeing that there were industry people trying to put together stewardship programs, there were individual states trying to do various tasks, such as disposing of obsolete pesticides and containers and there were educators trying to train applicators to do the right thing.

“However, none of this was being very well-coordinated, particularly across the public and private sectors and academia. A few of us from diverse backgrounds recognized that something was amiss, that we could be doing things better. That's why we decided to start the NSPA.”

Alliance members consist of government regulators, private industry and educators.

“We need to listen to each other,” Denny said.

“There is an understanding, both from the regulatory standpoint and from the industry point of view, that we have to have a sustainable agriculture. Regulations have to keep agriculture alive, industry alive. If they don't, we won't have anything to regulate.”

e-mail: [email protected].

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