A Question Of Direction

As the year winds down, most of my industry friends are asking me one simple question: What will our industry do in 2011? Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure – and I’m apparently not alone in my uncertainty.

This week, the ag retail industry-at-large will gather in Palm Springs, CA, for the annual Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) meeting. In conjunction with this, CropLife will hold its second annual State of the Industry Roundtable discussion with select retailers from around the country. In both cases, everyone will be looking for some clues to what the future of the ag retail marketplace might/will be.

The past few years, the direction has been pretty clear, and this was reflected in how the ARA conference was set up. In 2008, fertilizer prices had just crashed and meeting speakers talked about the need for caution moving forward. In 2009, the need for fertilizer contracts to protect ag retails from broken verbal agreements was the main point of discussion.

In 2010, however, the ARA meeting theme is more general – Taking Charge of Change: Navigating the Future of Ag Retail. Topics to be discussed include crop protection, fertilizer, Tier IV emissions rules and what’s going on in Washington, DC, regarding ag legislation.

In other words, a little bit of everything will be on the table. This makes 2011 a complete unknown in many regards, especially considering the past few years. In 2007, the ag retail world was awash in good times, with profits and prices in record territory. In 2008, this all came crashing down, hurting many bottom lines in the process. In 2009, things still weren’t quite right with grower-customers/retailers reluctant to order/buy inputs across the board. This year, things recovered, but as most analysts will correctly point out, any kind of uptick from the valley of 2009 should be labeled a plus.

So the question remains – will 2011 be up, down or flat? I guess we will all have to find this out the hard way – one day at a time.

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