As I put this column together, the nation’s top ag retailers are busy filling out their annual survey forms for the CropLife 100. To date, approximately 70 surveys have been received, and their information has been entered into our database. So far, these are providing some fascinating insight into the state of the ag retail market in 2018.
First, Some Overall Observations. From the data collected so far, it looks as if revenue for the nation’s top ag retailers will remain in the same range as it did during 2017 — just north or south of the $30 billion mark. The most interesting tidbit from this early data is the battle between the fertilizer and crop protection products categories for overall market share. Right now, both seem to be in the 40% area, virtually dead even — a situation that hasn’t existed for more than 15 years now!
As for other early eye-openers from this year’s survey, here are four to ponder.
Labor, Commodity Prices Dominate. At the end of each CropLife 100 survey, we give respondents the chance to tell us what key issues their businesses are dealing with. Normally, these answers range pretty heavily across a wide range of topics.
But not this year. In 2018 virtually 100% of the surveys received so far fit into two issue camps — the need for more labor/workers and low commodity prices causing revenue headaches for all. Almost no other topic has been mentioned thus far.
Dicamba Doing Better. One of the key topics many respondents mentioned in 2017, dicamba and issues with its application in-season, didn’t receive a single mention. However, the survey did ask if dicamba issues had persisted in 2018. The overall answer was “no.” According to 64% of respondents, dicamba applications in their areas of the country were “better” than in 2017. Only 30% said the situation was “worse.”
Tariffs Cause Worry. In 2018 much of the talk around agriculture has involved the ongoing tariff war between the U.S. and China. Everyone acknowledges that grower-customers are suffering from this today, but will they continue to do so? According to 87% of respondents, customer pain could be “very costly” if the tariffs remain in place for “two to three years.”
A Down Outlook for 2019. In addition to today’s market issues, CropLife 100 respondents also were asked how they foresaw the next growing season playing out. According to early results, the outlook isn’t all that rosy. From the early surveys, only one-quarter (25%) described their outlook for next year as “cautiously optimistic.” Slightly more than half, 54%, saw the 2019 agricultural market outlook as “somewhat pessimistic.” The remaining 20% were “very pessimistic.”
As always, many of these early results are subject to change. So be sure to check out the December 2018 edition of CropLife® magazine for the final numbers!