The Challenges Ahead

Last week, I wrote that the calendar turning over to 2010 offered the ag retailer industry hope compared with the bleakness that dominated 2009. This week in fairness, I thought I should focus on some of the challenges our marketplace faces in the new year. Surprisingly, in my mind, the most significant of these will come not from the fields of grower-customers, but from the halls of state and national capital buildings.

In the January 2010 issue of CropLife magazine, now hitting mailboxes across the country, readers will find articles from our industry’s key trade associations. In each of these, the trade groups talk about many of the newest legislative challenges facing their membership and how they plan to combat them. Most of them are nothing new: Transportation battles with rail carriers, improving chemical security systems, and pressure to adopt “greener” business practices.

Two issues, however, loom larger than the many and seem to have every trade association worried. First is the decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate EPA’s 2007 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). As CropLife America has warned its members, this decision puts any crop protection applicator at risk by requiring any application made to, over, and near any body of water to obtain an NPDES permit. The association is fighting this ruling and hopes to have the U.S. Supreme Court review (and possibly) overturn it.

The other big issue is water – specifically, the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Clean Water Restoration Act (Senate Bill 787) would remove the word “navigable” from the definition of waters in the U.S. in the CWA. According to the Agricultural Retailers Association, the deletion of this one word could “significantly increase” the scope of waters able to be regulated under the CWA.

In a perfect world, such potentially radical changes to the business practices of the average ag retailer wouldn’t happen each and every year. But in reality, they do. As always, how our industry addresses these challenges when they appear will ultimately determine our success in the year ahead as much as any spreadsheet detailing profits and losses.

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