Machinery Chatter

Be Safe When Working With Anhydrous Ammonia

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Anhydrous is the least-expensive form of nitrogen, but the tradeoff is it can also be a dangerous form to work with. (DTN photo by Greg Horstmeier)

When I was a little kid, my dad did some custom farming to make ends meet for his young, growing family. He pretty much did the entire gamut, from custom seeding in the spring, baling in the summer, harvest in the fall and even snow removal for the town's local retirement home in the winter.

One of the custom jobs he did for a few years was applying anhydrous ammonia for a local fertilizer retailer. I vaguely remember this time as my mom and I would pick him up from various fields that he did not farm.

As a little kid, I didn't understand the concept of custom farming and I wondered why he was farming other people's land. Did they know he was doing this? Now, almost all of these farms are growing housing developments, strip malls and golf courses in the ever-expanding west side of Omaha.

A side effect of this one particular custom job was my dad came to dislike applying anhydrous. I don't remember any specific incident he had with the fertilizer, but for as long as I can remember, he always utilized liquid nitrogen as the main source of nitrogen.

Anhydrous is the least-expensive form of nitrogen, but the tradeoff is it can also be a dangerous form to work with. I recently wrote an article (…)on tips for applying anhydrous safely. This was after a recent well-publicized incident involving an anhydrous leak injuring people, including first responders, in suburban Chicago.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has anhydrous ammonia safety training online. Anhydrous is a hazardous chemical and must be dealt with carefully, according to the MDA.

When handling anhydrous, it is important to remember to use personal protective equipment (PPE). This would consist of anhydrous-rated goggles and gloves, as well as long-sleeved shirts and pants.

The MDA wants those who work with the nitrogen fertilizer to remember to never assume anhydrous lines are empty, including hoses connected to the cold flow/heat transfer unit or withdrawal hoses. Operators need to stand upwind when connecting, disconnecting, bleeding lines or transferring product, according to the training.

Those working with this equipment need to handle valves by the body, not by the wheel or the latch. Close, bleed and secure valves and transfer line when leaving equipment unattended.

In addition, those operating anhydrous application equipment need to remember to park equipment downwind from dwellings, people and livestock.

Properly maintaining equipment is important with anhydrous application equipment.

Be sure to check hosing for bulges, cracks or cuts to the cords, soft spots or separation from hose couplings. Also, be sure to install and maintain the coupling device assembly according to the manufacturer's specifications.

Safety is also vital when anhydrous is being transported.

Those who move the fertilizer need to adhere to speed limits of 30 miles per hour when towing a full nurse tank and 35 mph for towing up to two empty nurse tanks. Display a slow-moving-vehicle emblem so that it is visible from the rear or towing assembly.

When transporting anhydrous, the safety training said, use independent safety chains of suitable rating and a hitch pin with retainer clip.

To see the entire MDA anhydrous safety training, log on to….

Russ Quinn can be reached at

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Russ Quinn