Retailer Ambassadors Reflect on the State of the Ag Profession

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Farm operations

2021 was an interesting year for agriculture. Midwest farmers took on numerous challenges, from extreme weather to high input costs. You know better than anyone just how resilient your customers are, and there’s no doubt you helped them overcome the obstacles in their way.

As we start 2022 and help farmers prepare for a whole new growing season, two retailers share their thoughts on some of the biggest challenges from last year and the challenges they think are still ahead for the future.

High Fertilizer Prices

Hovey Tinsman and Joe Dee are both retailer ambassadors for the nitrogen stabilizers products from Corteva Agriscience. Tinsman is the president and retail sales manager of Liqui-Grow, which is based in Davenport, Iowa; Dee is an agronomist at Ag Partners Coop in Morristown, Minnesota.

When asked about challenges their customers faced in 2021, both say input costs immediately come to mind. Fertilizer costs spiked in 2021 and remain high. Since nitrogen is already one of a farmer’s most expensive investments each season, prices are a particular concern.

“Fertilizer costs are at record highs this year, especially nitrogen. For example, just in fall, from August to December, anhydrous ammonia doubled," Dee says. "A combination of factors are driving these price increases. Production costs are rising, a hurricane in New Orleans halting barge traffic, and a general nitrogen shortage due to a large demand for the fall application season. Just a perfect storm overall.”  

Reports show nearly all types of nitrogen fertilizers at least doubled in price between October 2020 and October 2021.

“What customers are paying for the 2022 season is dramatically higher for UAN costs than 2021. They’re seeing an increased cost of about $110 an acre, on average,” Tinsman says. “So, for example, if they had been paying about $55 an acre before, you add $110 to that and now you’re seeing $165 an acre. That is just a dramatic like we have never seen.”

Knowing this, Dee and Tinsman say it’s important to help your customers get the best return on investment this year.

“You want to make sure you’re getting every little bit you can out of it. You begin to question yourself about where you can or can’t make cuts and we need to sure we are being efficient with every lb. of N that is applied. One way to do that is to   protect that investment with a nitrogen stabilizer,” Dee says.

Tinsman adds: “It’s even more critical to use a stabilizer as the cost of nitrogen goes up. You want to protect it and make sure it’s getting into the plant, because now you have less room for error because those fertilizer prices are so high.”

Dee and Tinsman recommend using N-Serve® nitrogen stabilizer to protect anhydrous ammonia and Instinct NXTGEN® nitrogen stabilizer to protect UAN, urea and manure.

Extreme Weather

Extreme weather was another concern for farmers in several Midwest states in 2021. Dee says his customers dealt with very dry and even drought conditions.

“This was probably the driest spring I’ve ever seen. We had about ¾ of an inch of rain between April 1 and early May,” Dee says.

Tinsman says customers in his territory experienced a variety of weather. He had some farmers with very dry conditions, and others were luckier, getting good amounts of moisture.

Dee says drought can obviously cause a lot of headaches for farmers, but he always advises patience. He says it’s best for farmers to move forward with their planned programs and avoid panicking.

“When you’re dealing with dry or even drought conditions, stick with your plans — like your nitrogen application plan, for example — and be patient. We can’t change the weather, so just try to be patient,” Dee says. “Try to manage what you can in the field, and make sure you’re ready to get the crop the nutrients it needs when we do end up getting some rain.”

An Eye on the Future

Although current challenges are always on retailers’ minds, Dee and Tinsman say they have their eyes on the future too. They say something that keeps them up at night is wondering just what, exactly, the future of ag will look like, particularly as the average age of farmers gets higher.

“What’s their plan going forward? Is there anybody who is going to take over their farming acres? We often see larger operations continuing to grow,” Dee says. “One thing that worries us is, who is the farmer of tomorrow, and how big are they going to be? What are we going to do to bring value to them?”

One thing Dee says retailers can do right now to help those smaller farms is to just be there to help get the work done in the fields.

“As equipment costs soar and policies become more stringent, some growers just don’t have the time to cover the acres or deal with the stress of certain applications and equipment upkeep," says Dee. "We bring value through precision application services with trained applicators to get the job done right, especially with applications that growers are less interested in doing. We are here to provide a service and our business depends highly on having great service.”

Another hurdle, however, is having enough employees on the local retailer level. “Finding qualified labor can be difficult for us,” Tinsman says.

Tinsman says one solution to this problem is to make sure current ag retail workers are supported. “We need to encourage our ag workers to avoid burnout. If they’re being asked to do an unreasonable amount of work, then they need to be able to say no or ask for help. That’s how we keep good people in the business.”

Dee and Tinsman say another solution is to encourage younger people to get into the ag business. They say it is certainly a challenging industry but that the rewards are well worth the work.

“It’s a hard job, but it can also be a really fun job. It’s very flexible. It can be very rewarding. It can really make you feel good about your contribution to the American food supply,” Tinsman says.

2022 will undoubtedly bring its own challenges to the ag world, just like 2021 did. Dee and Tinsman say the best thing to do now is to help your customers make good plans so they’re ready to get a strong start in the spring.

Instinct NXTGEN® is not registered for sale or use in all states. Contact your state pesticide regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your state. Do not fall-apply anhydrous ammonia south of Highway 16 in the state of Illinois. Always read and follow label directions.