Small Losses

As I write this column, I’m in the process of putting to bed our annual CropLife 100 report, which will appear in the December 2010 issue of the magazine. Overall, the picture this year’s survey paints is a pretty one, with revenue for the CropLife 100 retailers up approximately 9% over the 2009 total. Better still, all four of the categories tracked in the survey – crop protection, fertilizer, seed and custom application – saw increased sales from one year ago.

Yet, despite this overwhelmingly positive news, I’m touched by a bit of sadness from this year’s CropLife 100 report. Smaller retailers – those with sales below $15 million – have virtually disappeared from the list. When I first started in this business back in 2000, there were 28 retailers in the CropLife 100 that fell into this category. In the 2010 report, there are two. Long-time members of the listing such as Johnson City Chemical, Foster Gardner and Maine Potato Growers will be missing this year, replaced by larger dealerships and cooperatives.

For me, this doesn’t come as a great surprise. For the past several years, I’ve seen this trend accelerating as once-too-small retailers have merged or consolidated to gain enough critical mass to make the CropLife 100. Given this, it was only a matter of time before the No. 100 company on the list would need annual sales in excess of $15 million instead of $5 million, which was the case in the mid-2000s.

Still, I’ve visited many of these smaller retailers over the years. Many of them possess a passion of this business that I find is missing from larger, corporately minded operations. In the grand scheme of the ag retail marketplace, these companies may only be relatively minor parts of the corporate landscape, representing small losses in the picture painted by the CropLife 100.

But I’ll miss their presence on the list nonetheless . . .

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