As fall kicks into high gear, I normally find myself pouring through all the data submitted toward our magazine’s annual CropLife 100 survey. For 36 years we’ve spent the better part of these months collecting information from the nation’s top ag retailers to gauge the pulse of the overall agricultural marketplace. This year is no different. But some of the results are.
First, some good news. Given the kind of year that agriculture seems to be experiencing throughout the country, I wondered if the nation’s largest ag retailers would see their revenues drop a bit from the more than $30 billion they racked up during the 2018 growing season. However, with approximately 70 survey forms tabulated at press time, overall sales are looking relatively flat.
Of course, there was some bad news, particularly for crop protection products. This segment has spent the last few years in growth mode, with the category gradually improving its market share each of the past five years or so.
However, with most CropLife 100 ag retailers reporting extreme “softness” in their herbicide and fungicide sales for 2019, the crop protection products category appears to be headed toward a revenue decline this year.
Here are some other early observations on the health of the ag retail marketplace based upon early returns:
Profits primarily OK. As stated earlier, ag retailers in 2019 did manage to hold their own when it comes to making a profit. Overall, 39% of respondents indicated their sales for this year were almost identical to those they recorded in 2018. Better still, 35% wrote that their profit margins were better in 2019 vs. 2018. The remaining 26% are expecting to record sales declines for the year.
Trade wars hurt. One of the biggest stories to grip all of agriculture during the 2019 growing season has been the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China. As one of the major markets for U.S.-grown crops, particularly soybeans, grower-customers have seen their anticipated revenues for the year cut in half in many cases.
But how has this battle played out among ag retailers? In a word, painfully. According to 34% of CropLife 100 respondents, the trade war with China has had a “significant impact” on their businesses over the past 12 months. Another 55% said the dispute between countries has had “some impact” on their bottom lines during 2019. Only 11% said their companies felt “no impact” from the tariff wars.
Electronic worries wane. Finally, ag retailers in 2019 are apparently less concerned with e-commerce negatively impacting their businesses. Not many years ago the thought of companies such as Farmers Business Network “stealing business” was a major concern among CropLife 100 retailers. In the 2019 survey, only 9% of respondents believed e-commerce companies were a “major threat” to their survival. The other 91% were no longer worried about such rivals for their customers.
As always, these early results are subject to change. Be sure to check out the December edition of CropLife magazine for the final numbers!