Some Observations from the 2021 ARA Conference

I’ve just returned from the first in-person Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) conference since the start of the pandemic, and I have to say, it was an absolute joy to be back! Not that I have any hard numbers, but I think the number of handshakes, face-to-face conversations, and hugs I shared with industry friends in San Antonio, TX, last week easily outnumbered the number of such physical contacts I’ve shared with folks since the beginning of 2020!!

ARA 2021

Attendance at the 2021 Agricultural Retailers Association conference in San Antonio was on par with the 2019 event.

Overall, the attendance at ARA 2021 was impressive – 609. This was on-par with the last in-person show held pre-pandemic in 2019, where approximately 600 visitors were in attendance. Throughout the ballroom at the Grand Hyatt Riverwalk hotel, shouts of “good to see you again!” and “I’ve missed seeing you in person!” were commonplace.

Besides just being happy to be at an in-person event, most ARA 2021 attendees were extremely positive regarding the current growing season. According to most, 2021 was a great year for agriculture, with U.S. export numbers up, commodity prices staying high, and grower-customer income improving from 2020. Even higher fertilizer prices didn’t dampen the overall mood.

“Even though they were paying more than $1,100 per ton for nitrogen, my growers haven’t cut back on their fall fertilizer applications at all this year,” said one Midwestern ag retailer.

Yet, these higher fertilizer prices could negatively impact the 2022 growing season, with growers perhaps cutting back on applications of crop nutrition products other than nitrogen, warned some attendees. Lingering supply issues (and corresponding higher prices) could also keep ag retailers and their grower-customer “off balance” for much of the early part of the year, said other observers.

What one thing could derail the 2022 growing season for ag retailers?

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This somewhat mixed picture for agriculture in 2022 should clear up a bit in the coming months as state association winter shows begin in January. But in the meantime, everyone who was in San Antonio in early December seemed ready for another good year ahead for the industry!