WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Busy Summer for Iowa Fertilizer Company

May 26, 2014

Iowa Fertilizer Company has been the talk of Lee County for months.  In fact, Governor Terry Branstad mentions it regularly in public speeches.

Construction is ramping up at the Iowa Fertilizer Company's plant near Wever, Ia.
Credit Jason Parrott / Tri States Public Radio

He has good reason for doing so as the company is building a $1.8-billion plant near Wever, Ia, making it one of the largest private investments in state history.

President Shawn Rana says construction is in full swing with the facility being almost half complete.

This plant is not big enough to replace all of the imports, but we hope to be able to offset some of the imports.

The plant will sit on more than 300 acres of land near the Mississippi River.  In fact, the site is so large that school buses are used to shuttle workers.

Rana says there are plenty of workers to shuttle around as the workforce totals about 1,400 at this point.

"We expect later this summer, early fall, that we will be close to 2,000 and then by the end of (2014) we should be right around that 2,500 number."

Rana says he is not worried about what it will mean to add so many temporary workers to the local housing market.

Credit Jason Parrott / Tri States Public Radio

"We help our employees look for housing.  If someone has a rental property, we post it internally for people to consider.  That's what we are doing and that seems to have worked so far."

The number of on-site workers has led to the site growing vertically quite quickly.  There are numerous steel and concrete structures taking shape throughout the property.

Rana says activity will increase this summer when some heavy machinery starts to arrive.  He says, for example, one of the largest cranes in the world will be used to help move several pieces of equipment that weigh as much as three-million pounds.

"The distance that equipment will travel is only a few miles (from the river to the plant), so the disruption to the normal flow of traffic will be minimum if any.  The equipment will travel down back roads."

He says Iowa Fertilizer Company's goal is to not cause any disruption or disturbance, but it has agreed to repair or replace any roads that are damaged during the transport of the heavy machinery.

That is a condition of a recently-approved haul agreement between Lee County and the firm out of Tennessee handling the move.

Rana is confident this process will go quite smoothly and that construction will be completed in 2015.

Credit Jason Parrott / Tri States Public Radio

He says 2015 should also mark the start of the production of fertilizer at the plant.

Rana says about two-million tons of fertilizer will come out of the facility each year.

He says it will specialize in the three main varieties of fertilizer used by farmers in the Midwest, in particular UAN.

"It is a liquid fertilizer, very safe, mostly water.  You can stick your hand in it.  It is a very popular fertilizer in this area.  Farmers like it because it allows them to combine all of their other components into one fertilizer and do a one-pass application.  So that is going to be our biggest one."

Rana says the plant will also produce ammonia and urea.

Credit Jason Parrott / Tri States Public Radio

He says expansion is a possibility, depending on how much the market grows.  He says the U.S. is a huge importer of fertilizer so this plant will off-set some of the imports.

"This plant is not big enough to replace all of the imports, but we hope to be able to offset some of the imports and that is part of the cost savings for farmers, part of bringing jobs back to America, and part of using home-grown materials."

Rana says the fact that the plant is being built from scratch means it will be extremely safe due to the use of new technology.

He says when it is up and running, there could be as many as 240-full-time employees on site, which is a 33% increase compared to initial estimates.

Rana says it has less to do with changes to the plant and more to do with the company wanting to under-promise and over-deliver.