CropLife 100: 30/30 Vision

For those of us here at CropLife® magazine, this is a special occasion. Thirty years ago this month, the then-editors of this publication decided to compile a listing of the nation’s top ag retail establishments. Thus the CropLife 100 was born!

Over the past three decades, this annual survey has served as a benchmark for the health of the entire marketplace. It has given rise to a ranking of the top retailers by sales, dozens of industry trends articles, hundreds of graphs and countless hours of debating all of the above by the readers themselves. Elsewhere in this edition, you will find a detailed look at some of the most important ag retail industry-oriented events to take place during the CropLife 100’s tenure.

For me personally, the CropLife 100 represents a special effort. When I first started at what was then known as Farm Chemicals magazine in the fall of 2000, helping compile that year’s CropLife 100 was the very first project I ever worked on. At that time (before computer databases), all of the collected data had to be figured out using pen, calculator and paper — a process which typically took weeks to complete!

Looking back at the data from those early CropLife 100 issues is eye-opening. Back in 1984, the first listing had ag retailers earning more than $80 million per year at the top. On the first CropLife 100 I worked on in 2000, the top companies earned in the $500 million sales range.

Today, ag retailers earning $80 million per year fall in the middle of the pack. The top ag retailers in 2013 have yearly revenue in the billions, not millions, of dollars.

The crop input/service category breakout has also radically changed. Back in 1984, crop protection products held the lion’s share of all industry sales, with fertilizer a distant second and seed barely a blip on the sales radar. Today, fertilizer is the undisputed king of the crop inputs/services financial hill. Seed sales account for not quite 1/5 of total revenues. Meanwhile, crop protection products sits in second place, down approximately 50% from their glory days in the mid-1980s.

Of course, what’s really fun is to speculate what the CropLife 100 (and by extension, the entire ag retail industry) will look like 30 years down the road in 2043. If projections are correct, the world’s population by this time will be between nine and 10 billion. I would also speculate that, due to consolidation and increased materials costs, the nation’s top ag retailers will be annually earning somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 billion, with approximately 1/3 of the companies tallying more than $1 billion in yearly sales.

Among the categories, ongoing developments in biotech seed should help push this sector to a 30% market share, probably 10% higher than the percentage held by crop protection.

So in closing, I salute the CropLife 100 for what it represents to the ag retail industry! Here’s hoping the next 30 years are as exciting and thought-provoking as the past 30 have been.

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