Name That Tune

As I put this column together, I’ve just returned from the annual PACE Advisory Council meeting. For those who might be unfamiliar, the PACE Council consists of industry experts from across ag. Each year, this body gathers to discuss the year that was in ag and look forward to how the coming year just might play out.

During the course of a normal PACE meeting, one overall industry theme usually emerges. In many cases, these could be summed up using the titles of popular songs. In 2007, for instances, as commodity and input prices were booming thanks to biofuels interest, the industry was definitely singing “Happy Days Are Here Again!” During 2008, when market growth started out strong and came to a screeching halt once summer rolled around, the industry would have been humming the classic Chicago tune “Baby, What A Big Surprise.” For 2009, as inputs largely sat in ag retail and supplier ware­houses without buyers and credit lines dried up, the theme song was “Staying Alive.” In each of these cases, it was clear where the industry was and was going.

Which brings us to the 2010 PACE meeting. Going into the gathering, my pre-conceived notion was that the industry is having a healthy year. Based upon early returns in our magazine’s annual CropLife 100 retailers survey, crop input sales have rebounded, custom application work is improving and the majority of respondents seem to feel that 2011 will bring more of the same. Given this, I thought members of the PACE Council would say the industry is singing something akin to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” for the year.

And there was some happiness, to be sure. However, most PACE members remained very worried about certain industry trends. On the supplier side, one PACE member reported that his company is having its employees work extra time to keep up with increased product demand in an environment where just-in-time delivery has become the norm. This company and other key suppliers are apparently singing Billy Joel’s “Pressure.”

Others are concerned that an influx of Generation Y employees, with an average job lifespan of three or four years, won’t be able to make the connection with customers in such a short amount of time. Think Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home.”

Then there are those who believe the current economic good times in agriculture will once again “pop” under market pressures. Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles” comes to mind.

When I — looking for some consensus, asked PACE Council members when the industry would find a happy balance between good and bad, non-activity vs. hyper-activity — there was whole-hearted laughter. “Have we ever been at that place?” said one attendee. Guess that makes me like that Doobie Brothers song, “What A Fool Believes.”

In the end, the song that best describes 2010 could probably be The Beatles classic, “The Long And Winding Road.” Where it ultimately leads is still a matter for debate …

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