Parallel Universes

As a trade magazine editor, I spend a lot of my time reading up on other industries that utilize a similar manufacturer/distributor/end-user chain to our own ag retail market. One such item appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal.

This story told the tale of how some John Deere equipment retailers were upset with Big Green because the company was pressuring smaller ones to either “bulk up by acquiring another dealer or cash out.” Many of the retailers quoted in the article felt this treatment went above and beyond their contract with John Deere, which states dealers have to meet certain performance targets or risk losing their right to sell Deere products. A few even hinted that they would consider taking legal action against Deere if the company continued this course of action.

Not surprisingly, this scenario reminded me of one I saw play out back in the late 1980s involving The Coca-Cola Co. and its bottlers. This episode was identical to the Deere/dealers one — parent Coke was pressuring its bottlers to “get bigger through acquisition” and “reaffirm their commitment to Coke products over those of other soft drink companies.” Many bottlers, unhappy with being told how to run their family businesses, threatened legal action. Ultimately, Coke backed down — but only for a short while.

It was later in 1988 that Coke began actively buying out its bottlers, forming its own massive bottling operations under the Coca-Cola Enterprises name. Within 10 years, Coke directly controlled over three-fourths of its entire U.S. distribution network. Arch-rival Pepsi followed a similar course. Last time I checked, Coke and Pepsi owned better than 85% of their distribution networks across the country, with centrally located facilities replacing locally grown ones along the way.

Will John Deere follow a similar path to that of Coke and Pepsi? Time will tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the company did. After all, based upon the revenue numbers over the years reported by both soft drink giants, it’s pretty profitable to control your products from syrup to supermarket.

Naturally, this made me ask a simple question — will ag retail take the same path? At first glance, it would seem unlikely. The market is too spread out by its nature to make this work. As Agrium Retail President Richard Gearheard says in this issue’s cover story: “In the retail business, you are not dealing with multiple states out of one location. You are dealing with a 25- to 40-mile radius.”

Still, it’s no secret that the Big Six crop protection product manufacturers are under tremendous pressure from their retailers and post-patent producers to keep margins high and costs low. Many observers predict the number of basics will shrink to three or four in the next few years because of these market dynamics. Likewise, retailers are under pressure to firm up their revenues as grower needs evolve.

To ensure their survival, could some of the larger, better positioned basics begin buying (or signing exclusive agreements with) ag retailers to assure themselves of continued market share? Or could they bypass retailers altogether and sell directly to the larger grower-customers out there?

It will be interesting to see if history repeats itself in our parallel marketplace or takes a different course.

Leave a Reply

Latest News
ManagementWashington Visit and Bayer/Monsanto Deal Update
May 26, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discusses a recent trip to DC and the latest news on the proposed pairing Read More
Fertilizer closeup in hand
Industry NewsVerdesian: Striking A Balance Between Yield & ROI
May 26, 2016
Finely tuned nutrient management plans are helping farmers throughout the U.S. improve nutrient use efficiency, increase return on investment (ROI) Read More
Crop InputsLand O’Lakes Announces Minnesota Water Quality Pa…
May 25, 2016
Governor Mark Dayton and Land O’Lakes, Inc. President and CEO Chris Policinski today announced a new public-private partnership to protect Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Industry NewsMonsanto Rejects Bayer Bid; Open To More Talks
May 25, 2016
Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer AG’s $62 billion acquisition bid as “incomplete and financially inadequate” Read More
Corn close up
Crop InputsArysta LifeScience Establishes Global Headquarters In R…
May 25, 2016
Arysta LifeScience has announced plans to relocate its global headquarters from West Palm Beach, FL, to Cary, NC, over the Read More
fertilizer blending and storage, Top 100
BlendersCHS Dakota Expansion Features AGCO’s GSI InterSys…
May 25, 2016
The continued growth of precision agriculture has increased farmer use of customized fertilizer blends best-suited for their soil conditions. Several Read More
ManagementAgriculture 3.5: A Bumpy Road Ahead
May 24, 2016
You may have read my article a few years ago on Agriculture 3.0, which is a term I coined to Read More
Topcon’s X30 display with CropSpec sensors
EquipmentGPS Autosteer Systems: Product Updates From Precision A…
May 24, 2016
Throughout 2015 GPS Steering solutions continued to evolve from what was once an after-market add on, to today’s cab where Read More
Trimble TMX-2050 In-Cab Display
Eric SfiligojThe Precision Ag Revolution Continues
May 24, 2016
It’s funny how much “the first time” tends to mean to someone as they get older. I sometimes can’t recall Read More
Eric Wintemute, AMVAC
Precision AgAMVAC Ups The Ante With New Precision Ag Technology
May 24, 2016
A potentially industry-changing at-plant soil treatment system from American Vanguard Corp., or AMVAC, is coming soon to large growers in Read More
Dry and Liquid Plant
CropLife 100CropLife 100 Map
May 24, 2016
The new CropLife 100 map shows the locations of each of the headquarters of the 2015 CropLife 100 retailers. The interactive Read More
Southern States Cooperative
Corn Field
Industry NewsTiger-Sul Names Veteran Account Manager To Lead Central…
May 23, 2016
With the continuing growth of the sulphur bentonite and precision crop nutrient industry, global agriculture firm H.J. Baker has announced that Read More
Bayer sign
Industry NewsReuters: Bayer Defies Critics With $62 Billion Monsanto…
May 23, 2016
German drugs and crop chemicals group Bayer has offered to buy U.S. seeds company Monsanto for $62 billion in cash, Read More
Eric SfiligojPity The Monsanto Haters
May 23, 2016
An old saying goes thus: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” Given current events, there Read More
Industry NewsCompass Minerals Hires Industry Veteran To Lead Plant N…
May 19, 2016
Compass Minerals has hired plant nutrition industry veteran Vatren Jurin to steer the company’s portfolio expansion into specialty liquid micronutrient Read More
ASMARK Retailers LIVE! Tour 2016 Group shot The Andersons
CropLife 100The Andersons Rejects Unsolicited Proposal From HC2
May 19, 2016
The Andersons, Inc. has announced that its Board of Directors has rejected two non-binding, highly conditional, unsolicited proposals from HC2 Read More
glyphosate
Crop InputsWHO: Glyphosate ‘Unlikely’ To Cause Cancer
May 16, 2016
Via Reuters.com reporter Kate Kelland: The weed-killing pesticide glyphosate, made by Monsanto and widely used in agriculture and by gardeners, Read More