As I write this week’s enewletter column, I’ve just returned from the annual Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association (IFCA) meeting and convention. Other state associations have also held their annual meetings this month, with plenty more scheduled between now and the big National Farm Machinery Show in mid-February.
On the floor of the IFCA show itself, exhibitors seemed relatively pleased with their prospects for 2014. In particular, those companies involved in new ag retail plant construction and fertilizer blending indicated that business was “brisk,” with plenty of activity going through until the end of the year. Likewise, field equipment manufacturers said their orders for new machinery were equally strong through the middle of 2014.
On the other side of the coin, however, are fertilizer distributors. Following several strong demand years since 2009, many fertilizer dealers and suppliers at IFCA indicated that their advance sales for spring 2014 are “slower than I would have expected.” Most blamed the recent fall in corn prices convincing growers to possibly switch to less fertilizer dependent soybeans for the upcoming season. Others thought that because growers have applied “lots” of crop nutrients the past two years, they were choosing to “mine the soil” in 2014 instead of applying new fertilizer. A few even blamed the lack of a Farm Bill to have added to this uncertainty (although it looks like a new one should be passed shortly).
No matter what way you slice it, 2014 could end up being the most up/down year the ag retail marketplace has experienced since 2008 – when everything hummed along nicely until mid-year and then ground to a complete halt. In addition, another uneven weather year in 2014 could make this uncertainty even more pronounced.
As one IFCA attendee told me off the record: “I think we are just one really bad trend away from this whole bull market for agriculture coming to an end.”
I certainly hope this isn’t the case. But I will be watching events very closely just the same.