Year In Review: Great Adaptations

Did anyone really know what to expect going into the 2009 season? A global recession, bins filled with costly fertilizer, and a wet, cold spring didn’t bode well for a successful year — yet for the most part, retailers seem to have come through just fine.

Keeping an eye on the big picture, retailers also zeroed in on getting the most out of the day-to-day activities — “the small stuff.” Taking care of business meant adapting and adjusting as needed in the face of the various adversities of 2009.

And so did your grower-customers. Despite a growing season bookended by wet/cool weather bookends in many areas and drought in places like Texas, 2009 looks to be a record-setter. USDA based its projections of record soybean and near-record corn production on the warm, dry weather that blanketed most fields this summer.

It certainly wasn’t a season to sit idle, and dealerships and cooperatives seemed to step up their efforts to maintain and even improve the bottom line.

Let’s Make A Deal

A number of ag retailers made timely moves, choosing mergers and acquisitions to strengthen their position going forward, including:

  • The McGregor Co., a CropLife 100 retailer, purchased Ritzville Chemicals, Inc. of Ritzville, WA, furthering McGregor’s reach in the area and providing expanded services for Ritzville customers.
  • Olsen’s Mills Inc., a CropLife 100 retailer headquartered in Auroraville, WI, was sold to a group led by an Oshkosh, WI, businessman. The deal allows the dealership to continue service under different leadership.
  • Nichols Ag, an independent crop input retailer situated in Nichols, IA, was recently acquired by neighboring independent retailer O’Toole of Leets, IA.
  • CHS Inc. completed its acquisition of Winona River & Rail, Inc., a subsidiary of Rosen’s Diversified, Inc., Fairmont, MN, strengthening CHS’ Midwest and upper Mississippi River crop nutrients position through improved storage capacity and rail access.
  • Land O’Lakes, Inc. repositioned some of it Agriliance Retail South assets, divvying them up between buyers Winfield Solutions, Tennessee Farmers Cooperative, and CHS Inc.

… Or No Deal?

The deal that’s had the most attention was still up in the air at presstime, involving Agrium Inc., CF Industries, and Terra Industries Inc. Since February, the largest of the three fertilizer companies, Agrium, has bid to acquire CF Industries, which in turn has been making a strong play since January for a merger with the smaller Terra Industries.

According to CF Industries, Terra originally approached CF Industries several years before about combining Terra and CF. So, will they or won’t they get together — and which pair will it be? At presstime, Terra had refused CF’s offers time and again, and CF was resisting Agrium’s bids.

In late October, Agrium and Terra struck a tentative deal that will allow Terra to pay $250 million in cash for certain U.S. assets and a 50% stake in Agrium’s Carseland, Alberta, Canada facility — IF Agrium is successful in purchasing CF Industries.

On The Move

This year certainly didn’t lack in leadership changes and other personnel moves, either.

  • The Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) selected Daren Coppock as its new president/CEO. He began transitioning from his position as CEO of the Naitonal Association of Wheat Growers and will be full-time at ARA by Jan. 1.
  • It seemed that no sooner had CropLife® included his promotion at Valent U.S.A. Corp. and Sumitomo Chemical Co. in last year’s wrapup than Trevor Thorley took his newest position as chief operating officer and executive vice president of AMVAC Chemical Corp.
  • Arysta LifeScience Corp. brought in long-time GE senior executive Wayne Hewett to serve in a new company position, chief operating officer (COO). Next spring Hewett will become president and CEO, while President and CEO Chris Richards will move to the full-time position of Board of Directors chairman, and current Board Chairman David Jones will become non-executive director.
  • Antonio Galindez, a 26-year company veteran, was promoted to president and CEO of Dow AgroSciences, replacing Jerome Peribere, who was appointed president and CEO of Dow’s Advanced Materials Division.
  • DuPont promoted James Borell to executive vice president of DuPont, responsible for the Pioneer Hi-Bred and Crop Protection businesses. The company also named Paul Schickler as president of Pioneer Hi-Bred and James Collins as president of Crop Protection.
  • Paul Rea was promoted to director, U.S. Crop Business by BASF Corp.
  • Over at Monsanto Co., Carl Casale, 25-year company veteran, was appointed chief financial officer following the retirement of Terry Crews.
  • Two CropLife 100 companies announced new leaders: J.R. Simplot named industry veteran Bill Whitacre as its CEO-elect, succeeding the retiring President and CEO Larry Hoblick; and Bill Streeter became president and CEO of MFA, Inc.
  • In the equipment sector, Deere & Co. elected 34-year company veteran Samuel R. Allen to president, chief operating officer, while DICKEY-john Corp. picked Harvey Baker, a 30-year industry veteran, as its chief operating officer.
  • Dr. Jay Akridge, a co-author of the annual Precision Ag Survey report in CropLife magazine, has been named Purdue University’s dean of agriculture.
  • Allan Noe, vice president of CropLife Foundation and director of Special Projects with CropLife America, retired after 17 years of service on July 31. He will reopen the consulting firm, Noe & Associates, which he previously operated in 1990-92.
  • Allen James, president of RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment), officially announced his upcoming retirement, effective third quarter 2010.

Anniversaries, New Arrivals

Among those celebrating anniversaries and milestones in 2009 were several companies and products.

Highway Equipment Co. in Cedar Rapids, IA, manufacturer of New Leader ag spreaders and other equipment, celebrated its 70th anniversary. Also turning 70 was K-Mag fertilizer from The Mosaic Co.

Atrazine, one of the triazine family of herbicides available from many companies, including Syngenta, has been used worldwide to fight weeds in corn, grain sorghum, sugarcane, and other crops for 50 years.

Yargus Manufacturing Inc. celebrated the 40th anniversity of its Layco fertilizer handling equipment line.

On another front, 2009 heralded the advent of new forms of communication, including Twitter, text messaging, and CropLife magazine Webinars. The latest with Fuzion, LLC is available on-demand at www.croplife.com/webinars.

In Memoriam

The industry lost some influential leaders this year, including Jack Eberspacher, who as president and CEO led the charge to grow ARA’s membership and make ARA a force to be reckoned with on Capitol Hill; Mike Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Crop Production Association; and Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, 95, known as the “father of the Green Revolution” and credited with saving more than 1 billion lives.

A Bit Rusty

The furor over Asian soybean rust has died down somewhat since it first appeared on continental U.S. soil in November 2004, so the 2009 numbers may be surprising. The first documentation of U.S. soybean rust for the 2009 growing season was in a sentinel plot at the R4 stage in Iberia Parish in Louisiana on June 6, which is earlier than usual in that area. It was the first time rust had been found in the state before growers had a chance to apply a preventive fungicide.

Beans were planted later across the country due to the wet spring, so there was some concern about a rust explosion. However, a primarly dry season helped keep rust at bay until most fields were past the R6 stage and yields were not affected. At presstime, soybean rust had been found in 16 states and more than 512 counties in the U.S. and in three states and six municipalities (counties) in Mexico, according to USDA’s Integrated Pest Management — Pest Information Platform for Extension and Education (ipmPIPE), the official soybean rust Web site. On the same date in 2008, rust was found in 26 states and 349 counties in the U.S. (final total was 392 counties), and 10 municipalities in Mexico.

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