The Partner Principle

Traditionally, the three weeks from late September to mid-Octo­ber are the weeks that give our editorial crew some pretty interesting insight into the state of agriculture. First, there’s the CropLife America annual meeting, where the who’s who of crop protection manufacturing gather, network, and discuss the near- and long-term issues affecting agriculture and how the association will set its agenda for the coming year.

Then, in early October we host our annual PACE® Advisory Council meeting. This group of 24 industry leaders pay their own way to participate in what I’m pretty sure is one of the most fascinating think tank discussions of the year.

At CropLife America, the 2006 season was described as “challenged,” a “disappointment,” and “not a year we’d like to repeat.” This came, of course, on the heels of  the phenomenal 2005 selling season, and served to remind all of us of the overall shift away from crop protection products and toward seed traits. Besides the soybean rust bust that filled the pipeline with unused  fungicides, glyphosate-tolerant corn (in particular as a component of stacked trait varieties) is enjoying a meteoric rise in use in the Corn Belt. Estimates have glyphosate-tolerant corn covering 50% of corn acreage in the 2007 season, with some projections putting the market share at near 80% by 2009.

The short term impact on corn herbicide sales will be significant as this adoption shift takes place. A modest percentage of this will likely return in the form of preemergence programs for growers looking to reduce risk of yield loss due to weed resistance and/or heightened weed competition in continuous glyphosate-tolerant cropping. But it won’t make up for the diminishing traditional corn herbicide program.

The good news on the corn front is that agriculture needs corn, and lots of it. As you’ve read in this issue of Crop­Life® magazine, the biofuel movement is soon going to consume virtually all the corn we can produce in the near term — a trend which could last a decade. As advisors and suppliers to growers, you’re going to be central to agronomic decisions being made, from seed and traits to fertility and crop protection.

The discussion at our PACE Advisory Council meeting supported the enormous potential of biofuels. The only unsettling thing was the genuine lack of uncertainty about exactly how this trend will play out in the long term. So much could hinge on unpredictable variables, such as fuel costs and global politics. But to a PACE Advisory Council member, the feeling was that biofuels are here to stay and will have an impact for years to come.

In times of sea change and upheaval in the market, partnerships and relationships will make a big difference. In responding to the changing crop protection market, one large retail organization president told us, “I’m looking to truly partner with (a few) companies, with people I can trust will ride with me on the way down when the market is tough, as well as on the way up.”

Make no mistake, the next five years will require all your business acumen to negotiate the twisting roads agriculture will be throwing at you. Building deeper personal alliances will certainly be a key to ensuring long-term survival in the changing ag market, both with manufacturers and grower-customers.

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