Sustainability in Ag Retail: Connecting the Dots

Sustainability in Ag Retail: Connecting the Dots

Just before Christmas I had the opportunity to spend some time in our nation’s capital with Jay Vroom, the President of CropLife America. (Editor’s note: CropLife America and CropLife® magazine are NOT affiliated in any way). We talked about his long and storied career in advance of his coming retirement later this year.


Some of our discussion will be fodder for interesting stories later this year, but that’s not why I bring it up. At one point we took a walk in his “neighborhood” around I Street and 15th Northwest and were walking by the new construction going on where the old Washington Post building used to stand.

We started talking about the addition of retail space and offices and laughed a bit. I don’t remember exactly what Vroom said, but it was something like, “I’m not sure how they can sustain all this new construction. Aren’t we supposed to be doing more telecommuting? Isn’t retail supposed to be disappearing?”

The conversation has stuck in my head and popped up here and there during the weeks that have passed. I drive through my own suburb of Cleveland and see a hole in the ground where new retail is supplanting a closed hospital, a scant three blocks where a brand-spanking-new retail strip has been sitting empty, save for “anchor” tenant Domino’s Pizza (because nothing attracts like a Domino’s, right?).

Are we nuts? Are we lazy? Are we in denial? Or is a return to retail that I can’t foresee somewhere out there, and I am the crazy one for suggesting otherwise?

I was reminded of all this recently when someone forwarded me a document from CB Insights, talking about Walmart’s patent applications that would affect food delivery and agriculture. The one that made me chuckle a bit — and brought the fate of retail again into focus — was the idea of an automated retail storefront built onto people’s houses. If that sounds preposterous, think (for those of you 50 and older) of a milk chute on steroids.

From the drawings, it appears that an unmanned device (drone or ground vehicle) would be able to deliver products to an unmanned “storefront” (secure milk chute) built into the home. I’m not sure how soon to expect it, but it’s a lot better than giving Bubba the Delivery Guy a key to my home.

On the ag side, Walmart also applied for patents for an unmanned pest detection and treatment system. Connecting the dots, one would assume that Walmart might require that such a system be used by growers who supply Walmart with food that goes on its shelves in the name of transparency and traceability. Even if it doesn’t work out, we can clearly see where things are headed.

This series of stories is a particularly long road to go to express the following sentiment: Keep an eye on the big picture. Acknowledge where things are likely headed. As a key leader within your organization, take the time to incorporate your observations into long-range planning and ensure you are ahead of industry-moving trends.

Remember, too, that matching what everyone else is doing should not serve as comfort. Dozens of malls, retailers like Sears, Toys R Us, and so many more looked past opportunities to innovate and slid slowly into oblivion by standing still. What will you do today to ensure the sustainability of your business?