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Farm groups support new fertilizer restrictions

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WASHINGTON — Farmers who buy ammonium nitrate — a common fertilizer, but an ingredient in explosives as well — soon may have to register in advance with the federal government. But farm groups are not complaining.

New regulations regarding the sale of ammonium nitrate have been in the works for several years and were crafted by the Department of Homeland Security in cooperation with industry and farm groups. Announced last week, the regulations are open for public comment until Dec. 1 but likely will be finalized more or less as written, said Tyler Wegmeyer, director of government relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Anyone wanting to buy 25 pounds or more of ammonium nitrate would have to register with the government and be subject to a criminal background check before the purchase.

The use of ammonium nitrate in bombs became better known after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal office building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Rising terrorist threats since then have raised further concerns.

But what might have been criticized by farmers then is not raising much fuss now.

“We want to make sure the product doesn’t get into the wrong hands,” Mr. Wegmeyer said.

New York Farm Bureau supports the regulations as well and sees them as keeping farms as well as the nation safe, said a spokesman, Peter Gregg. “We want to cooperate and help in that as much as we can,” he said.

Farmers have been turning away from ammonium nitrate, finding other sources of nitrogen, Mr. Wegmeyer said.

The threat of federal restrictions sent ammonium nitrate prices climbing, making it less attractive, Mr. Wegmeyer said. Around the time of the Oklahoma City bombing, it was one of the cheapest fertilizers.

Mr. Wegmeyer said some crop growers still use ammonium nitrate, but as long as a farmer plans to let the dealer take care of applying it instead of buying it for his or her own use, the background check isn’t required.

“Overall, it’s become less of an important product,” he said, adding that some retailers no longer carry it.

Considering how much its use has declined, Mr. Wegmeyer said, the restrictions will not hurt farmers much.

Ammonium nitrate has been a common explosive in the construction and mining industries in Northern New York and elsewhere. The Associated General Contractors Association of America, representing the construction industry, is still reviewing the proposal, said a spokesman, Brian Turmail.

Also as part of the rules, sellers will have to retain records and report any theft of ammonium nitrate to federal authorities within 24 hours.

The proposed rule is available through the Federal Register at www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-08-03/pdf/2011-19313.pdf.

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