CropLife 100: Custom Application in 2018? Concentrate, and Ask Again
At first glance it doesn’t look like the custom application category among CropLife 100 ag retailers had much to crow about in 2018. Annual sales for the category were relatively flat, up only $65.6 million to maintain its overall sales range of $1.6 billion. Market share held steady at 5% compared with all other crop inputs/services in the CropLife 100.
Furthermore, in terms of overall segment growth, custom application experienced virtually the same rate of sales growth year over year in 2018 as it did during 2017 (up 1% to more than 5% for 52% of CropLife 100 ag retailers vs. 56% in 2017). Somewhat better news was that the percentage of the nation’s top ag retailers recording a sales decline between 1% and more than 5% for the segment dropped from 25% in 2017 to 21% this year.
It is Decidedly So
However, to appreciate how 2018 was a better year for the custom application category than 2017, an observer needs to consider one word in this evaluation: dicamba. During its first year as part of a new cropping system to combat herbicide-resistant weeds, dicamba applications went anything but smoothly. Throughout the 2017 growing season, thousands of growers and residents across the Eastern part of the U.S. lodged complaints with local ag agencies and legal experts, claiming off-target dicamba applications were causing damage to their crop fields/plants. By the end of the year, more than 3,000 such formal complaints were logged against dicamba, with more than 900 coming from the state of Arkansas alone.
After some investigating of the complaints, analysts blamed much of the off-target dicamba work on a combination of the use of older dicamba formulations (which don’t offer the same level of drift control as the newer ones do) and “some applicators not following label instructions as closely as they should have.” As a result, several states implemented new restrictions on when dicamba could be applied in season and required applicators to undergo a new series of training courses regarding the proper handling and application of dicamba.
This apparently helped. During the 2018 growing season, the number of off-target dicamba complaints nationwide fell by approximately two-thirds (although states such as Illinois still reported a fair share of them).
CropLife 100 ag retailers also noted this improvement in dicamba application work for 2018. According to the survey results, 65% of respondents said that issues with dicamba-resistant crops in their areas of the country were “better” than they were during 2017. Another 5% said conditions were the same both years. The remaining 30% thought that dicamba application issues in 2018 were “worse” than in 2017.
As I See it, Yes
Besides crop protection product application, the 2018 CropLife 100 survey also asked respondents about their fertilizer application work — specifically nitrogen and its timing. For several years now, state environmental concerns regarding crop nutrient run-off have come to the forefront. As a result, many grower-customers have started changing the season timing for their nitrogen application work from fall to spring.
But have CropLife 100 ag retailers noticed this trend at work, too? The answer is “definitely yes.” According to the 2018 survey, 61% of respondents say that the majority of their nitrogen application work is being done in the spring. Another 30% have noted a definite shift from fall-applied nitrogen to spring/in-season application instead. Only 9% of the nation’s top ag retailers still have their grower-customers sticking with a fall-applied nitrogen program and expect that to continue.