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Serious about safety

ResponsibleAg tool guides Co-ops in taking proactive measures to benefit community, farmer members, and employees
Story and photo by Chris Villines 5/1/2018


Rutherford Farmers Cooperative’s DeKalb branch recently became the 1,000th facility nationwide to earn ResponsibleAg certification. Celebrating the achievement are Co-op employees, from left, Randy Sowell, Chris Johnson, Lane Poss, manager Derek Pack, Barry Bose, and Tammy Smith.
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Story and photo by Chris Villines

On April 17, 2013, business ceased to be “as usual” in West, Texas, as a massive ammonium nitrate explosion at a fertilizer storage and distribution facility in the town killed 15 people, injured more than 160 others, and damaged or destroyed more than 150 buildings.

The tragic event put intense scrutiny on the fertilizer industry and businesses that distribute and market fertilizer products to farmers. And it led to the formation of ResponsibleAg, an industry-led initiative created by the Agricultural Retailers Association and The Fertilizer Institute to promote public welfare by assisting ag retailers like Co-op in complying with federal environmental, health, safety, and security rules regarding the safe handling and storage of fertilizer products.

At the core of ResponsibleAg is a safety checklist, developed by a technical committee comprised of industry regulatory professionals, that is used by credentialed auditors to assess the level of compliance at each participating facility. Representing the Co-op system as auditors are Randy Crowell, manager of Tennessee Farmers Cooperative’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Department, and EHS Specialist Drew Landerman.

“ResponsibleAg provides great support in effectively assessing the performance of all Co-op locations in a uniform, structured format,” says Crowell. “This accredited program is a component of TFC’s overall Safety Activity Program and allows us to partner with a third party to provide a structured approach to the auditing process and guidance to our facilities. ResponsibleAg audits help them better understand the regulations they face. Without this information, a Co-op could potentially sidetrack an area pertinent to its business.”

To date, Crowell says he and Landerman have performed more than 140 audits across the system, and more than 100 Co-op facilities have earned ResponsibleAg certification. Certified facilities have the added incentive of qualifying for discounts on insurance premiums.

Most recently, Rutherford Farmers Cooperative’s DeKalb branch became the 1,000th facility nationally to earn the ResponsibleAg designation out of the more than 2,600 registered with the program.

“It has helped our awareness of safety a lot,” says Derek Pack, manager of the DeKalb store. “Many of the recommendations on the ResponsibleAg assessment were common-sense things we should have been doing for years. It made us dig a little deeper and take a broader look at what we’re doing. It was eye-opening.”

Facilities registered under ResponsibleAg are audited every three years using a checklist containing Federal regulatory requirements applicable to the storage and handling of fertilizer and/or other agrichemical products, feeds, equipment, and applicable regulatory issues. ResponsibleAg audits center on the following compliance areas:

• EHS Documentation

• Maintenance Records

• Office & Grounds

• Dry Fertilizer Warehouse

• Bulk Liquid Fertilizer

• Anhydrous Ammonia


• Anhydrous Ammonia

    Mobile Equipment

• Shop Safety

• Forklift/End Loaders

• Commercial Motor


• Application/Nurse


• Waste Management

• Fuel Storage, Delivery,

    and Transfer (Gasoline,

    Diesel, Propane, or


• Car Care/Service Centers

• Seed Treater/Warehouse

• Chemical Warehouse

• Bulk Pesticide

• Grain/Feed

“If applicable, facilities will receive a corrective action plan listing any issues documented by the auditor,” says Landerman. “Only after all items are corrected will the facility become ResponsibleAg certified.”

Co-ops have access to the documents used during the audit, so they can prepare and know there will not be any surprises.

“ResponsibleAg is a tool we can all look to, comply with, and say this is a relative standard that we as a system follow,” says Joey Caldwell, a member of TFC’s Risk Management Board and general manager of Tipton Farmers Cooperative, which has earned certification at both its main location in Covington and branch store in Halls. “It doesn’t hurt to have some external perspective about what you’re doing. ResponsibleAg has provided that for us and other Co-ops. We want to communicate to our employees, farmer members, and the communities we operate in that we’re responsible stewards.”

Claiborne Farmers Cooperative General Manager Rick Keck, a fellow TFC Risk Management Board member, says ResponsibleAg has helped Co-op facilities to not only become compliant with federal regulations, but also become more aware of them.

“There are some regulations that people at a facility might not have even realized they weren’t in compliance with,” explains Keck, who notes that all three Claiborne Farmers locations — New Tazewell, Speedwell, and LaFollette — are ResponsibleAg Certified. “The long-term effect of ResponsibleAg will not only be a safer work environment for our employees, customers, and neighbors, but also the added savings on insurance. It pays to be proactive.”

For more information about ResponsibleAg, visit

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