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Hurricane Ian deals a glancing blow to fertilizer plants

Florida produces a significant share of the world’s phosphate fertilizers

by Matt Blois
October 6, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 36


A container ship in the port of Tampa Bay.
Credit: Shutterstock
Nearly 12 million metric tons of phosphate products flow through the port of Tampa Bay each year.

The fertilizer company Mosaic says Hurricane Ian caused “modest damage” to its phosphate fertilizer facilities and supporting infrastructure in Florida. The state’s phosphate production is concentrated in its center, but the most damaging part of the storm was further south.

The glancing blow follows a series of setbacks for fertilizer producers. Pakistan prime minister Shehbaz Sharif told the Associated Press that this summer’s massive floods damaged fertilizer factories there. In August, CF Industries announced that it would stop making ammonia, a fertilizer and raw material for other nitrogen fertilizers, at a plant in the UK because of high natural gas prices.Fertilizer prices started rising in the summer of 2021 and have remained high. “Ian didn’t help, but there are bigger, more lasting issues,” Texas A&M agricultural economist Mark Welch says in an email.

Mosaic expects to repair the damage in Florida within 2 weeks, but the storm could reduce its phosphate output by up to 250,000 metric tons over the next several months. An initial inspection found that Mosaic’s stacks of phosphogypsum—radioactive waste generated in the production of phosphate fertilizer—weren’t affected during the storm.

In addition, the company says closures of rail lines and the port of Tampa Bay delayed fertilizer shipments. The port has since reopened. Mosaic produces about half the phosphate fertilizer used in the US and about 12% of global supply.

A spokesperson for the fertilizer company Nutrien says the storm didn’t cause any damage or disrupt operations at the company’s phosphate fertilizer facility in northern Florida.

Last year, Hurricane Ida damaged two of Mosaic’s fertilizer plants in Louisiana, halting operations for 2 months and reducing production by about 300,000 metric tons. And Hurricane Irma caused $7 million in damages when it hit Mosaic’s Florida operations in 2017.

These hurricane-related costs add up. In 2021, Mosaic reported that it was planning to spend $1.5 million on hurricane preparedness projects, though it said that figure doesn’t reflect the full cost of preparing for hurricanes.



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