Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed within this blog are those of the author and not necessarily held by the Illinois Soybean Association.
It might be a sign of my age (mid-30s), generation, the current times or all three, but I’ve had a picture I saw the other day stuck in my head the entire time I’ve been thinking about where we are in agriculture today. The picture is one of actor Ben Affleck with his eyes closed as he appears to be giving a huge sigh of exhaustion with a caption that reads, “I’m getting pretty tired of living through historical events.” Don’t get me wrong, we have a great many blessings to count in agriculture today, but they seem to come with bigger and bigger challenges that never seem to end. A return to “normal,” whatever that is, sounds pretty appealing right now. The truth of the matter is that I feel it will be some time before we settle into the “new normal.”
In agriculture today, we’re blessed with some of the highest grain prices on record. However, in today’s world, those come with record high fuel and input prices too. Emerging from the worst pandemic in a century, as well as the only time in history we’ve idled human civilization in an attempt to combat a pathogen, has caused the greatest supply chain disruptions since at least World War II, if not ever. In many ways, farmers in the Midwest are blessed. We have great soils, great access to markets, relatively convenient river terminals, and good interstate systems to move grains and fertilizer. We’re not accustomed to needing things that cannot be found. Unfortunately, these are realities we’re going to have to get used to this season and likely in the next couple of years as well.
Not only are domestic inventories of fertilizers low, but also inventories of some crop protections products are extremely tight as well. To make matters worse we also are seeing a huge shortage of truck drivers in this country making it harder for companies to make and receive deliveries on time. The shortage of truck drivers also delays transportation of raw materials to make many of the crop protection products we need. It really is impacting all sectors in this country. That is why if you were to order a brand-new piece of equipment today, you’re likely being told it is at a minimum 12 to 16 months out from delivery.
As if all the challenges I just laid out were not enough, I think the biggest issue facing agriculture today is personnel. As more industries invest domestically and add jobs, competition for workers increases. Agriculture is an industry where many workers are required to hold Commercial Drivers Licenses to drive big trucks, and the national shortage of truck drivers is driving up the demand for them and their wages. It is tough to find and retain good employees in agriculture for some of the salaries being offered in other industries.
So as a famer myself and a retailer with a decade and a half of experience, I have a few bits of advice for other growers. First and foremost, everything I described above is happening today. I know some growers who at times live in their own little bubble, don’t leave their own farm much, or talk to the most people and don’t realize many of the challenges out there are truly happening. These challenges are very real, and not something any of us are used to.
Next, make sure you have a great relationship with your supplier. At the retail level, purchasing managers are working hard to secure tight product. Every farmer has a different style in which they like to conduct business. Some farmers rely on one supplier and some shop multiple suppliers. From the supplier standpoint, they are going to do everything they can to make sure all the needs of their loyal customers are accommodated first. If you happen to be the type of grower that shops multiple suppliers and moves your business around annually, just know that your needs will likely be put to the back burner to cater to the loyal annual customer first. I have heard of several growers being turned down by retailers for shuttles of Glyphosate and Glufosinate. In every case, that grower wasn’t an annual customer of that retailer.
Another point to consider is talking to your retailer about operations. Ask them if there is anything you can do to assist operations on your farm. If you have ammonia or fertilizer to put on this spring, ask if you can come pick it up at the plant instead of having it delivered. Many times, you might find they’re willing to work with you, or you can certainly save yourself a delivery fee. Every little bit taking the crunch off your supplier will help you both.
As I write this blog in the third week of April 2022, almost no spring field work or planting has been done East of the Mississippi River. In spring ammonia and fertilizer country, we have a ton of work to do before fields are ready to be planted. Everyone is in the same boat together. So, when the weather finally warms and dries and the rush of the season begins, please consider some of the points I’ve laid out above. The issues of this spring might mean parking your corn planter a day or two because your retailer doesn’t have the ammonia and fertilizer on a field yet, so you go plant a few fields of beans because the ground is fit and ready. That may be completely backwards to how you’ve ever farmed in the spring but trust me, this year is completely backwards as to any I’ve seen yet. Stay in good communication with your retailer, we can all get through this spring together.