On Wednesday, I highlighted a curious passage in the Republican platform warning that America's "dependence on foreign imports of fertilizer could threaten our food supply" and supporting the development of domestic fertilizer production. In explaining the logic behind the line, I quoted congressional testimony by Fertilizer Institute President Ford West, who reported in 2009 that rising natural gas prices were taking a heavy toll on the domestic production of nitrogen fertilizer, forcing U.S. farmers to import more and more fertilizer.
Today, the Fertilizer Institute -- a Washington, D.C.-based association that represents producers, manufacturers, retailers, and transporters of fertilizer -- responded to the GOP plank. In a statement sent to Foreign Policy, Kathy Mathers, the organization's vice president for public affairs, noted that the outlook has actually brightened for the U.S. fertilizer industry since 2009 -- all thanks to shale-gas production:
U.S. natural gas prices in 2008 were at or near the highest in the world, placing the domestic nitrogen industry at a significant disadvantage, given natural gas's importance in the production of anhydrous ammonia and the nitrogen materials derived therefrom.
Due to the recent shale gas boom, the landscape for domestic nitrogen fertilizer production has changed significantly since the 2009 hearing. Because domestically produced natural gas is currently very competitive with gas produced elsewhere around the World, the dismantling of nitrogen fertilizer production facilities here has ceased. In fact, both the domestic nitrogen industry as well as companies from around the world are contemplating building new nitrogen production facilities in the United States in order to take advantage of the competitively priced natural gas.
Mathers added, however, that the fertilizer imports that worry Republicans are still vital for the United States:
That said, fertilizer is a global industry and imports have been and continue to be an important part of the fertilizer supplies which are necessary to meet the demands of America's farmers.
It's a sentiment that countries like Canada and Trinidad and Tobago, which shipped nearly $8 billion worth of fertilizer to the United States in 2011, would likely second.
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