WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Iowa Fertilizer Company Not Hurt by Pandemic

Jul 10, 2020

The Iowa Fertilizer Company (IFC) this spring marked its third year of operations in Lee County. IFC officials said the massive chemical plant has remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re classified as a facility that’s required to operate,” said Plant Manager Robb Aultman.

“We were pretty aggressive right off the bat with implementing the things that we needed to do to ensure that our employees’ health was paramount.”

Aultman said the plant does health checks on all employees and contractors. He said the company has also emphasized social distancing between workers and does regular cleaning of surfaces.

He said no employees have been furloughed or laid off during the pandemic. But the company did alter the operating schedule to keep the number of workers at the plant at any single time to a minimum. He said that sometimes meant paying workers to stay home during April and May.

He said their efforts have paid off so far.

“To date, to our knowledge, no employee or contractor has had COVID. We’re thankful for that and pretty proud of that,” Aultman said.

The facility employs 240 people, about 75 more than originally projected.  They include chemical and mechanical engineers, lab technicians, manufacturing workers, and maintenance workers.

The plant operates 24/7 throughout the year, though the company shut it down for several weeks about a year ago for planned maintenance.  Darrell Allman, Reliability Director for the plant’s parent company, OCI NV, said they brought in around 600 contractors to work on the plant during the shutdown.

It cost more than $3 billion to build the facility, which produces nitrogen fertilizer for agricultural markets in the Midwest. 

Allman said the plant is producing more than originally anticipated.

“On average, we run 15% to 17% above the design number,” he said, adding most of the product is shipped by truck.

“99%, if not close to 100% of all the product made in Wever, Iowa, stays within a 200 mile circle of the plant.”

Allman said the facility has the flexibility to change what it produces if market demands change.

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