For several months now, I’ve been writing about how challenging a year 2019 has been for the agricultural community. Weather issues delayed (or completely derailed) planting, the trade war with China kept commodity prices in the dumps, and grower-customer incomes fell once more (down under $50 billion, according to most informed sources).
Given these difficulties, no one would have been surprised if the nation’s leading ag retailers also took some serious financial hits. But that didn’t happen. In fact, I’ve just finished compiled our magazine’s annual CropLife 100 data (to appear in December, in print and online) and the numbers were quite positive. From 2018’s CropLife 100 revenues of more than $30 billion, the nation’s top ag retailers in 2019 were able to grow their overall sales into the $32 billion range.
I know when I recently presented some of these figures to a panel of industry experts, such positive numbers for ag retailers was met with more than just a little disbelief. However, this is the story the survey numbers are telling everyone.
As for why ag retailers were able to record sales gains during the challenging year that was in 2019, there are two possible explanations. One comes from the category of crop inputs that grew the fastest during the year – fertilizer. Hitting the $13.8 billion mark in 2019, the fertilizer category grew an impressive 13% from 2018.
The second reason is a bit more basic, and simpler to understand. It has to do with the number of outlets now represented by the CropLife 100. In 2018, there were 4,703 outlets spread out among the 100 largest ag retailers. But in 2019, this number increased to 4,942, a 5% increase. Indeed, this additional 239 locations could easily account for much of the overall market’s sales gains during 2019.
For more details on the 2019 CropLife 100 report, keep an eye out of the December issue of CropLife and regular postings on our website. Given the kind of year 2019 was for most of agriculture, there are some interesting dynamics going on among ag retailers!