CF Fertilisers has announced a proposal to permanently close the ammonia plant at its Billingham Complex.

It intends to continue to produce ammonium nitrate (AN) fertiliser and nitric acid at the Billingham site using imported ammonia, as it has done for the last 10 months following its decision to temporality idle the plant in August of last year.

It said this proposed closure would be to “more efficiently service its customers in the country” and to secure long-term sustainability of its business in the UK.

CF Fertilisers UK, which is a subsidiary of CF Industries Holdings, Inc., said its forecast shows that producing ammonia at Billingham will not be cost-competitive for the long-term compared to importing ammonia, due primarily to projected high natural gas prices in the UK relative to other regions and the impact of carbon costs.

It added that shutdowns in recent years of industrial customers’ UK operations that had consumed significant ammonia volumes for their businesses have created a supply-demand imbalance for ammonia production at the Billingham Complex.

It believes that ample global availability of ammonia for import, including from its North American production network, will enable more cost-competitive and efficient production and sales of ammonium nitrate fertiliser and nitric acid for its UK agriculture and chemicals customers moving forward. 

The proposed closure at Billingham could result in up to 38 job losses, however the company anticipates the some of these jobs could be redeployed elsewhere in its operations.

CF Fertilisers’ closure ‘concerning’

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) deputy president Tom Bradshaw said this decision is a “concerning one” as it “exposes our fertiliser market further to global volatility”.

“Availability of fertiliser is a crucial element of domestic food security and relying on importing ammonia from global markets exposes British fertiliser production to possible long-term risks,” he said.

“Fertiliser is a vital tool that helps British farmers and growers produce food for the nation. It’s important that the government now look closely at how this shift to a reliance of imported ammonia could impact our domestic food production and highlights the need to maintain access to all nitrogen fertiliser products including urea.”