Thinking Forward

The time to panic is when things are going really well. As a kid who grew up Catholic, it was the mantra we lived by. If things are going well, just wait ­— the blessings you’re enjoying will inevitably be followed by equal and opposite misfortune, so say your prayers and be vigilant! Still makes me shudder.

As an adult, this ground-in way of living manifests itself in my constant search for the next storm beyond the calm, the hidden thorn in the rose.

When it comes to agriculture, it’s not hard to find issues to be concerned about. For instance, everyone is concerned about the stability of crop prices and the persistent volatility in the cost of inputs. Land values continue to rise, and growers are increasingly emboldened to take more responsibility for products and services that retailers have traditionally provided.

But when you take the altitude up higher, the future could hardly be brighter for folks working in agriculture. Food demand is projected to increase with the growing population for the next 40 years. Fuel utilizing corn or other biomasses will also continue. With finite land resources available for growing crops, and some of the best land resources right here in the U.S., it should be nothing but blue skies.

Well, not so fast. One of the side effects of good times is that everyone on the outside begins looking for a piece of the action, while everyone on the inside hunts for ways to make even more hay while the sun is shining.

On the one end, you have folks like my brother-in-law, who over the last few years has been working to build wealth by buying and trading on the stock market. He told me about some of the agriculture market stocks he’s bought and sold and some of what I would consider very cosmetic reasons for buying and selling. But he recognizes that in a bum economy, agriculture is a place he needs to nose around.

On the inside of agriculture there’s all sorts of measured change occurring. Growers are getting bigger and more demanding of “competitive” pricing. Fertilizer manufacturers are managing supply and business to generate as much profit as possible in an increasingly global market where the U.S. is no longer the top dog as far as consumption. Seed companies are in a tooth-and-nail battle for market share as each claims victory in some aspect of the race for top yield for its genetics. You should see my e-mail inbox — “battle” is too gentle a word.

How does your operation fit as the market continues to change? Are you taking the time to think about how your business will need to evolve over the next three to five years to stay viable?

It’s a really difficult question, especially for some of the small to medium side, full-service retailers who do an exceptional job servicing grower-customers, but who struggle to find the time for strategic, long-range planning.

We have a small staff here at the magazine, and I think we do an exceptional job at the day-to-day work. Long-range planning can seem like a chore, and frankly it can make your head hurt, with little immediate gratification.

But with things changing so rapidly and both internal and external pressures pushing down on the business, thinking forward is a necessary exercise. In 2011, we at CropLife® will be getting at these key issues and offering strategies to help you manage change.

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