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
MAGIE 2015 Overview
Eric SfiligojThe Read From MAGIE
August 29, 2016
As I write this column, I’ve just returned from the annual Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) in Bloomington, IL. Being Read More
EquipmentAGCO Opens Nominations For 11th Annual Operator Of The …
August 29, 2016
AGCO Corp. is now accepting nominations for 2016 Operator of the Year, which recognizes hard-working applicators across the country. These Read More
CHS St. Paul, MN fertilizer terminal
CropLife 100CHS Completes $10 Million Renovation Of St. Paul Agrono…
August 29, 2016
CHS Inc., North America’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, has completed a $10 million Read More
2016 ShowStopper | Case IH Patriot 4440 Sprayer
Equipment5 Show-stopping Products On Display At 2016 MAGIE
August 26, 2016
For 10 years now, visitors to the yearly Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) show have been tasked with voting for Read More
Crop InputsDuPont Pioneer: Corn Belt P and K Levels Lagging
August 24, 2016
A new DuPont Pioneer study conducted across 12 Corn Belt states demonstrates that growers may be leaving profit potential in Read More
Monsanto sign
Crop InputsCould a Monsanto-Bayer Union Be 2 Weeks from Fruition?
August 24, 2016
Via STLToday.com (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch): Merger talks between Monsanto Co. and Bayer AG are advancing after a series of Read More
EquipmentCase IH Debuts Nutri-Tiller 955 Strip-Till Applicator
August 24, 2016
With strip-till continuing to expand across new acres, Case IH designed the new Nutri-Tiller 955 strip-till applicator to help producers Read More
EquipmentCase Launches Aim Command FLEX, 25th Anniversary Patrio…
August 24, 2016
Case IH announces new AIM Command FLEX advanced spray technology for greater application accuracy, as well as special 25th Anniversary Read More
ASMARK 2016 Retailers Live! Tour - CPS
CropLife 100CPS Acquires Texas Retail Operation
August 23, 2016
Crop Production Services (CPS) has acquired the assets of Larry’s Chemical and Spray, Inc., for an undisclosed amount in an Read More
PrecisionAg Video Conference
Precision AgVideo: PrecisionAg Vision Conference
August 22, 2016
A Strategic Conference Focused on the Future of Farm Digitization and Precision Agriculture Visit precisionagvision.com and register today! Read More
Young Corn Plants
Industry NewsOABA Welcomes Nicole Wallace As Communication & Adm…
August 22, 2016
The Ohio AgriBusiness Association has hired Nicole Wallace as its communication and administrative coordinator. Wallace will help provide comprehensive communication Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsChemChina, Syngenta Receive Clearance From CFIUS
August 22, 2016
China National Chemical Corp. (ChemChina) and Syngenta have announced that the companies have received clearance on their proposed transaction from the Read More
ManagementAg Industry Shows and Rumors
August 18, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about the upcoming trade show schedule, crop protection merger updates, and content for Read More
MAGIE 2015
EquipmentMAGIE Takes The Pulse Of The Ag Retail Industry
August 18, 2016
Every year, one of the major highlights of my career as an ag journalist is attending the Midwest AG Industries Read More
MAGIE 2015 Overview
EquipmentPride In Professionalism On Display At MAGIE
August 18, 2016
The Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association (IFCA) is proud to partner with CropLife IRON and continue the tradition of bringing Read More
SprayersJenner Ag To Debut 25th Anniversary Edition Case IH Pat…
August 18, 2016
Visitors at the 2016 Midwest Ag Industries Exhibition (MAGIE) in Bloomington, IL, will have a unique photo opportunity, as Jenner Read More
Crop InputsEU Glyphosate Controversy Heating Up Yet Again
August 17, 2016
The battle over glyphosate rages on in Europe, creating a lot of question marks over whether the herbicide will continue Read More
Industry NewsNew Partnership Provides Improved Representation At Ohi…
August 16, 2016
The Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA) has retained Belinda Jones of Capitol Consulting Group, Inc. (CCG) for government relations work in Read More