Selling Crop Protection Short?

As a trade magazine journalist, I pride myself on being to able piece together seemingly unrelated facts and come up with some kind of connected conclusion. And for the most part, I’ve found that the folks that run most major corporations are just as adapt at this ability to help their companies move forward.

But this isn’t always the case. On occasion, I leave a meeting or press briefing scratching my head wondering if I’m missing something.

This happened at the recent Commodity Classic show, held in early March. Although the show caters to all sectors of the ag marketplace, crop protection companies have traditionally “upped their game above other players,” so to speak, using this venue to talk about their product offerings, company directions or both. The 2012 show was no exception, with virtually all the major crop protection product manufacturers holding press events, briefings or in-booth tours to discuss their business plans, both present and future.

But one presentation really puzzled me. When talking about the performance of its business during 2011, one crop protection manufacturer made a point of saying it was pleased with the savings the company had achieved during the year with its crop protection division while still growing overall sales some 2%.

Okay — savings while growing sales is always a good thing. But then came the head scratching moment.

“We plan to move these monies into faster growing areas of our business,” said the company spokesperson.

Now if this kind of comment was made eight years ago, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. At that time, thanks to the near universal weed control offered by products such as glyphosate and insect control seed traits, this would have seemed like the logical course of future business for any company to take. However in 2012, viewing the crop protection product market this way seems a bit short-sighted.

Elsewhere at the event, crop protection companies were talking about the host of new problems facing ag and how their new offerings will help. The number of herbicide-resistant weeds is expanding at an alarming rate, with 50 confirmed species in the U.S. affecting thousands of farm acres. In addition, 2011-12’s relatively mild winter means insect pressures should be at a premium this growing season. And the brown marmorated stinkbug is just starting to attract the attention of soybean and cotton growers, meaning control options will need to be developed.

With these threats growing in number — and the option of applying a single product or strategy to achieve control disappearing — the market for new crop protection products or older chemistries being used in new ways seems brighter than ever. This was certainly the message I got from many crop protection manufacturers at the show.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out going forward. But I foresee some bright days ahead for crop protection products and their suppliers.

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