Jim Fargo is the first to acknowledge that in many circles, the terms “environmentally friendly” and “agricultural inputs” aren’t said in the same breath.
But he and others at the Kersey-based Centennial Ag Supply Co. have long worked to shatter any of those negative perceptions, he said, and they now have a national award in their pocket to help back up their efforts.
Last month, Centennial Ag was honored with the Environmental Respect Award on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. — becoming the first Colorado business to earn the national agriculture honor in the 23 years it’s been handed out.
“It’s a tremendous honor ... something we’re very proud of,” said Fargo, the compliance, safety and product manager at Centennial Ag, who was in Washington to receive the award.
Employees of Centennial Ag — which has six other locations across northeast Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming — consult with farmers to create specific blends of fertilizers, nutrients and other inputs that meet the needs of each field, based on soil type, pests, diseases and other factors. In many cases, they go out into the fields to apply them.
Some of the efforts that earned the Kersey facility its recent recognition include placing concrete slabs at all of its fertilizer-loading spots so that, for any spills that might take place, the material is captured instead of going into the soil. It is then recycled and reused at the plant, not wasted.
Fargo said the Kersey facility spends about $100,000 on concrete alone each year, even though the concrete foundations at its loading sites aren’t a federal or state requirement.
Fargo stressed that, among other efforts, the company uses its fertilizers and other inputs as sparingly as possible, only applying what’s needed in the fields.
“It does the crop no good if we use more than is needed, and it does the farmer we’re doing business with no good,” Fargo said. “The inputs we provide are necessary to feed a growing population. But we, as a company, take pretty seriously using only what’s needed.
“The farmer’s profitability is one of our top priorities, and if the farmer is spending more on inputs than he needs to, we’re not doing our job. It’s a method that makes sense financially and environmentally.”
Across the board, Fargo said, the company tries to stay ahead of the curve in how it operates.
The phrase “ahead of the curve” could also be used to describe how the company was started, Fargo said.
In the mid-1970s, Jim Klein, born and raised in Weld County, began using liquid fertilizers instead of dry fertilizers — long before many others in the industry were doing so — while also using other techniques that were new at the time.
To test his theories, he asked a local onion farmer if he could use half of his field.
The farmer agreed, and soon Klein was applying his methods to other fields.
In business for 37 years, Klein — still the owner — and his company cover about 300,000 acres in the three-state region.
The Environmental Respect Award program, sponsored by DuPont Crop Protection, is conducted by CropLife magazine and honors companies that serve farmers and ranchers with nutrients, pest control and agronomic information. It started in 1990 and has grown to include more than 5,000 participating businesses.
Centennial Ag has participated in the program for about 10 years.
Its Yuma location won the state Environmental Respect Award in 2005, and the Kersey location won the state award in 2009, before earning its regional and national awards this year.
In addition to environmental stewardship, the award recognizes community involvement and commitment to the safety of workers.
Worker safety in particular is another area Centennial Ag takes seriously, Fargo noted.
In recent years, they’ve taken on the added expense of enclosing areas where they work with dry fertilizer, to keep any debris from such materials from floating into the air.
They’re spending money to replace some of their plastic storage tanks at the plant with stainless steel structures, which are easier to spray clean, Fargo said, preventing workers from having to go inside the tanks to wash them out.
Ammonium nitrate — the chemical that made headlines as the cause of an April explosion in Texas that killed 14 people — is never stored at their facility. A couple loads each day are brought to the plant but used right away, so storage of the material isn’t necessary.
The company has added rails and platforms around its loading facilities, making them more secure for the employees working on them.
Fargo also conducts training seminars on various topics with his workers each month, if not more frequently, he added.
In the 17 years he’s been working with Centennial Ag, Fargo said they’ve never had a major injury on-site.
“It’s pretty simple here. If it’s good for the customers and it’s good for our workers, it’s good for us,” Fargo said. “It’s pretty basic, but obviously it’s worked.” ❖