AgroterrorismCalls in Canada for better protection against fertilizer bomb threat

Published 28 June 2010

The Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers wants a comprehensive plan of action to prevent agricultural supplies such as fertilizers from becoming tools of terrorists; the association calls for an “integrated crop input security protocol” for Canada’s 1,500 agri-retail sites; this plan would include perimeter fencing, surveillance and alarm devices, lighting, locks, software, and staff training in various security techniques, at retail outlets; estimated cost: $100 million

The effectiveness of the fertilizer bomb is well known // Source:

Local farm supply store in Canada may soon look more like a fortress than a retail outlet. The reason: Ever since Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people by blowing up an Oklahoma City federal government building with forty bags of ammonium nitrate — a farm fertilizer that can also be an explosive — authorities everywhere have been on high alert for unusual purchases of large quantities of fertilizer.

Earlier this month, with G8 and G20 summits right around the corner, fears of another terrorism plot surfaced when a farm supply store in southern Ontario told police of a suspicious purchase. A man who said he represented a farmer paid cash for a large quantity of fertilizer, rather than put the purchase on the farmer’s account. Owen Roberts writes in Guelph Mercury that store officials were concerned and called authorities, spooked by the Oklahoma tragedy and, more recently, the foiled attempt in New York City to set off a propane-fuelled terrorist bomb.

After an investigation, the fertilizer purchase turned out to be legitimate, “likely a gardening incident,” according to police, who traced it to residences in Toronto.

Roberts notes that the scare was a false alarm, but it was a red flag for the farming community. It underlined how extremely vulnerable farming is to terrorism, not just in wide open spaces such as pastures and fields, but in the very stores where farmers (and non-farmers) buy supplies.

Now, sales protocols are being reviewed. The Fertilizer Safety and Security Council says that even though there was no security risk, it is going to take this opportunity to make sure security programs for ammonium nitrate are up to speed.

This is not good enough for the professional association representing fertilizer dealers across Canada, the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers. It wants a bigger plan of action, what it calls an “integrated crop input security protocol” for Canada’s 1,500 agri-retail sites.

This plan would include perimeter fencing, surveillance and alarm devices, lighting, locks, software, and staff training in various security techniques, at retail outlets. Estimated cost: $100 million.

The association says the tab should be shared by the sector and Ottawa. That could be a problem. In agriculture, it is sometimes difficult to get traction for big-ticket programs that are proactive rather than reactive.

Roberts writes that this proposed security program, however, is as much about public safety as it is about farming. Other voices, particularly from law enforcement agencies, should be chiming in to show support, because, as association president David MacKay says, a threat still exists to the public and to farmers, whose essential crop inputs such as fertilizer are vulnerable to criminal and terrorist acts.

MacKay says terrorists and others “won’t always walk through the front door” to get such crop inputs for nefarious purposes. He hopes the federal government will assist in a comprehensive, national plan to make inputs secure.

“This incident should remind us to remain vigilant, knowing that potential threats do exist and that terrorists will persist in trying to acquire what are normally benign agricultural products and misuse them for destructive purposes,” says MacKay. “Notwithstanding the threat to the Canadian public, farmers and retailers can ill afford to lose these products to reactive over-regulation following a

terrorist incident.”

The price tag sounds steep, and it is,” Roberts writes. “But we’re spending an estimated $1 billion on security for the G8 and G20, alone. It’s vital, but then it’s gone. By comparison, the fertilizer industry is talking about an investment in security too, one that’s permanent and likewise addresses a real potential threat.”