Stuck In The Past

Happy new year, everyone! Wel­come to 2011, already moving into the second decade of the 21st century. Seems like just yesterday when we all were flipping the calendar to the start of the century.

With this fact in tow, it’s time to propose a new year’s resolution for our marketplace — let’s stop living in the past and move forward.

Now for those who know me, this might seem like an odd statement. It seems as if I am seriously guilty of bringing up “old times” and “do you remember when?” moments (as my wife and friends constantly remind me). This has particularly been the case as I have tried to keep pace with an energetic 2.5-year-old boy (and failed miserably to do so).

Yet, even I recognize the time comes when enough is enough regarding past longings or fears. I was made aware of this fact at the recent Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) meeting in December. During many of the conference sessions, speakers talked about how pleasantly surprised they were with agriculture’s performance in 2010 — and the bright prospects going forward. In his speech, CF Industries President/CEO Steve Wilson predicted fertilizer demand in the U.S. will grow significantly during 2011, up anywhere from 3% to 15% depending upon the crop nutrient involved. “The fertilizer industry is in a position to thrive vs. 10 years ago,” said Wilson.

In a similar vein, seed sales seem headed for a strong year in 2011. At our magazine’s 2nd annual State of the Industry roundtable event, held just prior to ARA, participating ag retailers reported that their grower-customers had already booked between 60% and 90% of their seed orders at that date, in addition to the other crop inputs needed to support these choices. You can read more about the outlooks for fertilizer, seed and the other segments of the ag retail marketplace throughout this month’s issue of CropLife®.

So, with these numbers in hand, you might think optimism among retailers and industry suppliers would be at an all-time high. But it’s not. Many expressed varying degrees of caution about how 2011 will turn out financially, despite the evidence. This was reinforced by Wilson in his concluding remark. “While we believe that the market is good now, we are not out of the bad cycle just yet,” he said.

From this, it’s clear that people in the market vividly remember what happened back in 2008 and 2009 and are afraid 2010’s positive gains will once again prove to be a house of cards if the unexpected occurs. But can an industry truly move forward when it keeps waiting for the next “what if?” disaster to occur?

While I applaud the caution being shown by my industry friends, minimizing how the market performed in 2010 seems short-sighted. Instead, everyone should embrace how quickly ag retail recovered from the economic downturn and focus on building upon these gains in the new year. Life — and good economic cycles — are too short to remain stuck in the past for long.

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