John Phipps: Why the Pesticide Shortage Could Alter the Way Farmers Do Business

One of the biggest supply chain stories for farmers this spring has been pesticides. While my experience is these situations are usually overblown early and are often just cover for whopping price hikes, the fact remains you may not be able to wander into your supplier whenever you want and get all the glyphosate you need. That seems to be the biggest worry, but other herbicides are harder to get, as well.

We’re not experienced with shortages here in the U.S., so responses to this situation have been mixed and confused. Regardless of how this plays out in the next few months, there are some likely consequences. Weed control could be uneven this season, and for the most dependent pesticide users, possibly ugly.

The old field cultivator won’t look like a useless antique, and tillage of all kinds will be attempted on fields dedicated to no-till for years. To be sure, no-till had been fading, at least in my area as resistant weeds forced weed control adaptation. For all its issues, weeds don’t develop resistance to steel.

This unfortunate supply disruption puts a spotlight on the forgotten and near total dependency less tillage places on chemicals. Should this year’s battle against weeds go badly, all kinds of used tillage machines will rival tractor price jumps. Look for farmers to begin nailing down chemical supplies for 2023 now, instead of trusting to assurances of availability.

Like no-till, another pesticide strategy will reveal a hidden flaw. Buying every year from the same local dealer may have been more expensive than shopping around and haggling over price, but being a dependable customer allows dealers to price and buy ahead with the assurance of sales to those reliable buyers. Business loyalty often carries a price, but it also can also return large benefits in unusual situations like this. The strategy of shopping around sounds good in magazine pages, but sleeping at night this winter because our dealer had already locked in our needs should not be discounted. In return, dealers who auction off that loyalty for a one-time windfall can expect fewer and tougher transactions in the future.

My guess is we’ll find enough material to take care of this crop in some fashion, but the shock from this input season will change how we farm and do business for years.


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