Ag Industry Braces For Uncertainty In 2014

Happy 2014, everyone! A new year has arrived, bringing the promise of good times and fortunes for the business of agriculture.

At least I hope this will be the case.

As I prepare this column for publication, I’ve just returned from the annual Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) meeting. Not only is this a great venue to see some old industry friends and catch up on the latest trends impacting the ag retail community, it is a great place to gauge the overall feeling ag retailers and their grower-customers have regarding the upcoming year (in this case, 2014). For the past several years, I’ve come away from the ARA event feeling pretty confident that the year ahead would be another in a string of very positive ones for ag.

But I’m not as certain about the prospects for 2014. For the first time since the 2008 meeting, I came away from ARA 2013 feeling a bit worried. In fact, some retailers I talked with are absolutely dreading what 2014 might bring.

“There’s a new reality dawning for the corn market, which has been steadily driving overall growth these past five years,” said one Midwestern ag retailer. “Many growers are starting to recognize the new normal isn’t $7 per bushel corn, but $4 per bushel corn, and they are adjusting their crop inputs accordingly.”

In many cases, said ag retailers, this has meant dialing back fertilizer application work during the second half of 2013. Several ag retailers I talked with at ARA said their fall fertilizer sales were slow to “non-existent” during the early fall months of September and October. Only late in the year — starting in mid-November just before Thanksgiving — did ag retailers report their fertilizer application work matching historic levels.

Fertilizer suppliers in particular seem to be gearing up for a rough 2014. In fact, in early December, PotashCorp announced it was reducing its workforce in Canada, Trinidad and the U.S. by approximately 1,000 employees because of slowing demand. “This sluggish environment has been most visible in our potash and phosphate businesses, and has contributed to challenging market conditions,” said PotashCorp President/CEO Bill Doyle. “As a consequence, we must make some difficult decisions to ensure the company continues to be well positioned for the future.”

And there are, of course, many other concerns on ag’s plate going into 2014. Besides dropping commodity prices and declining fertilizer demand, there are reductions in the ethanol blend requirements, the continuing spread of weed/pest resistance and the lack of a new Farm Bill, to name a few.

An old Chinese curse wishes that the listener “live in interesting times.” Given all the uncertainty that currently exists in agriculture as the industry starts the 2014 season, I’d say we are definitely there already.

Leave a Reply

Eric Sfiligoj Stories
Eric SfiligojWar And Green Peace
October 11, 2014
A one-time member of Green Peace recently explained why he left the organization after 15 years. Read More
Eric SfiligojThe Resurgence Of Crop Protection
August 4, 2014
Plenty of new offerings over the next few years should see a rebirth for the crop protection products category in terms of market share. Read More
Eric SfiligojA Whole New Precision Ag World
June 2, 2014
Excitement and technology developments could make 2014 a year to remember for precision ag. Read More
Eric SfiligojOngoing State Biotech Crop Labeling Laws Could Receive Federal Stop Sign
May 19, 2014
Proposed legislation in Congress might prevent states from passing biotech crop labeling laws. Read More
Top 100 Articles
Milan Kucerak, president/CEO, West Central
CropLife 100West Central Cooperative And Its New President Are A Match Made In Deviation
June 29, 2015
To appreciate just how unique West Central Cooperative is in the world of ag retail, an observer need only consider Read More
Winter Wheat
CropLife 100South Dakota Co-op Member Owners Vote No On Unification
June 26, 2015
The Boards of Directors for North Central Farmers Elevator (NCFE) and Wheat Growers (WG) have announced that member-owners have voted Read More
CropLife 100The Andersons Acquires South Dakota Plant Nutrient Manufacturer Kay-Flo
May 20, 2015
The Andersons, Inc., ranked No. 22 on the CropLife 100, has purchased Kay Flo Industries of North Sioux City, SD. “This Read More
CropLife 100AgGateway’s Barcoding Initiative Progressing Nicely
May 8, 2015
According to legend (or Wikipedia), the first step towards modern bar codes came back in 1948, when Bernard Silver, a Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Acquires Minnesota Retailer
April 14, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC, ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100,  has successfully acquired Liebl Ag, LLC in Ada, MN.  Read More
CropLife 100CHS, Aurora Cooperative Complete Fertilizer Storage, Grain Shuttle Loading Facility
April 13, 2015
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading cooperative and ranked No. 5 on the CropLife 100, and Aurora Cooperative (ranked No. 21) Read More
Latest News
Agworld Apple Watch Farm Management
EquipmentAussie Data Management Software Company Making Its Mark…
July 4, 2015
Western-Australia-based Agworld — having fully launched its data management software system stateside last year after a 2013 soft launch — Read More
Topcon AGI-4 on MF Planter
EquipmentAutosteer: Compatibility, Accuracy Remain Top Of Mind
July 3, 2015
The world of automatic steering solutions in agriculture has evolved rapidly in the last few years. From after-market add-ons that Read More
ManagementUnited Suppliers/Land ‘O Lakes Merger & Crop Update
July 2, 2015
CropLife’s Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about the reasons behind the United Suppliers/Land ‘O Lakes merger and USDA’s recent Read More
Industry NewsBioSafe Adds To Sales Force
July 2, 2015
BioSafe Systems has announced the hire of two new members for its service team. David Britt recently joined the team Read More
Chesapeake Bay
ManagementChesapeake Bay Clean-Up Gets Renewed Attention
July 2, 2015
The Chesapeake Bay has been called one of the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world. It’s also one of Read More
Measuring Bulk Tanks
ManagementBulk Pesticide Compliance: Top 10 Areas Of Improvement …
July 1, 2015
  In honor of the 33-year run of David Letterman’s Late Show, the American Agronomic Stewardship Alliance (AASA) is happy Read More
Industry NewsArysta North America Hires Midwest Sales Manager
July 1, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America recently announced the hiring of Brian Battles as the Senior Technical Sales Manager for the Midwest Read More
Farmer on tablet
Eric SfiligojThe Never-Ending Battle Against Modern Agriculture
July 1, 2015
In the world of comic books, the character of Superman often refers to the fight to save the world as Read More
Retail FacilitiesBuilding Up Ag Retail
July 1, 2015
In the oftentimes unpredictable world we live in, it’s nice to know some things can be reliably countered on to Read More
Retail FacilitiesMaple River Grain And Agronomy Phases In Site Developme…
July 1, 2015
Marcus Construction helped Maple River Grain and Agronomy in Casselton, ND, with the design-build of its dry fertilizer, liquid chemical/seed Read More
Retail FacilitiesA&B Welding Builds A New Liquid Terminal Hub For Br…
July 1, 2015
To build its new hub facility, Briggs Crop Nutrients enlisted the help of A&B Welding. The result, an efficient facility Read More
Edon Farmers Co-op
Retail FacilitiesNew Marcus Facility At Edon Farmers Co-op Provides More…
July 1, 2015
Edon Farmers Co-Op in Edon, OH, needed a new facility to consolidate outdated locations. Marcus Construction was able to design Read More
Retail FacilitiesKinder Morgan Expands Its Storage With A New Dome Barre…
July 1, 2015
Kinder Morgan wanted additional covered storage at its Dakota Bulk Terminal on the Mississippi River in St. Paul, MN. With Read More
Retail FacilitiesHeartland Tank Protects Fertilizer From Extreme Cold At…
July 1, 2015
The Arthur Companies in Harvey, ND, enlisted the help of Heartland Tank Companies to develop a new liquid fertilizer facility Read More
The McGregor Co. fertilizer loadout
Retail FacilitiesThe McGregor Co. Partners With Kahler Automation To Cre…
June 30, 2015
Kahler Automation helped The McGregor Co. expand its Clarkston, WA, operation with unstaffed loadout technology that enables customers to pick Read More
Dry and Liquid Plant
Retail FacilitiesKahler Automation Helps CHS Dakota Ag Cooperative Build…
June 30, 2015
CHS Dakota Ag Cooperative in Mooreton, ND, wanted a liquid/dry blender system that could meet the needs of its customers Read More
Crop InputsLand O’Lakes, United Suppliers To Merge Crop Inpu…
June 29, 2015
Land O’Lakes, Inc. and United Suppliers, Inc. of Ames, IA, today announced their intent to merge their crop inputs businesses. Read More
FungicidesHelena To Distribute Unique Summit Agro Fungicide
June 29, 2015
RANMAN 400 SC fungicide, the only fungicide with a FRAC group 21 designation, is now part of the innovative Summit Read More