In the last 10 years, U.S. farmers have found themselves more and more at the mercy of the global marketplace. These days, U.S. cotton, soybean and corn producers can be affected more by a drought in China or India than one in their own country.
Now U.S. crop consultants are beginning to see their businesses take on more of a global perspective as they reach out to other consultants and try to help their growers navigate through a minefield of marketing and regulatory issues.
“People in my own organization used to come up and ask me, ‘Why do you do all this traveling?” said Allen Scobie, a crop consultant from Scotland, who has become a fixture at the annual meetings of the U.S.-based National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants. “Why do you go to America and these other places?
“I tell them it’s because of the contacts I make,” said Scobie, who works with Bridgend Consultancy Services in Dundee in Scotland. “And it’s because of what I learn about my profession and about agriculture.”
Scobie first came to speak to the NAICC as president of the Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants or AICC, the NAICC’s counterpart in the United Kingdom. He’s been coming back almost every year. This year he was joined by Patrick Stephenson, a crop consultant from Pickering, North Yorkshire, in the UK.
Earlier this year, they and members of the NAICC, AICC and the Pole Du Counseil Independent Agriculture or PCIA in France helped form a new organization called the Global Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants. Scobie said the group grew out of a need to have a more formal means of exchanging information between consultants.
“There are so many things happening in the world that affect farmers,” said Scobie, who also works in the Ukraine in the former Soviet Union and in other parts of the world. “Sometimes, those events can have a major impact on their bottom line.”
Last summer, Scobie was traveling in the Ukraine, compiling a report on crop conditions and agronomic practices for his employer when he became aware of the dry conditions that were beginning to take a toll on the region’s wheat crop.
“I came back and told my farmers, ‘Don’t sell your wheat, prices are going to rise,’” he said. “They paid attention and didn’t sell, and when the impact of the drought in Russia and the Ukraine became better known, wheat prices rose significantly.
Information farmers need
“That’s the kind of information farmers need, but they don’t always hear it through their normal marketing channels until they’ve already sold their crops.”
“Someone’s downside is usually someone else’s upside,” said Stephenson, who gave a Global Perspective presentation during the NAICC’s recent annual meeting in Ft. Worth, Texas. “The flooding in Australia, as bad as that is, can be a boon to someone on the other side of the world.
“We all try to save our clients a maximum amount of money. As tempting as it might be at times, we can’t take ourselves away from that decision-making process. We have to encourage our growers to lock in a profit. The basics don’t change that much. What your clients pay for phosphorous or potash or nitrogen is exactly what my growers pay.”
Stephenson agrees that farmers need more information about what’s going on in the world of agriculture. Too often, the information they do get is obtained from government channels or based on conjecture.
“The crop numbers released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, are good guesses,” he said, “but, nevertheless, they are their best guess.”
There has never been a time when good agronomic information of the kind provided by experienced independent crop consultants was more important, said Stephenson. The growing demand for good food is creating a similar demand for good information.
Short supplies of cotton, wheat and corn and sharply increased off take of soybeans and soy products for livestock production in China have sent prices for those commodities to unheard of levels in recent months.
The resulting high food prices, Stephenson said, played a role in the recent over throw of the government in Tunisia. Since then, similar unrest has spread to Egypt, Jordan and Yemen in the Middle East.
“Now is the time to make your voices heard,” said Stephenson. They (farmers) need you, the world needs you, and the world needs farmers.”
Scobie said he and other leaders don’t see the new Global Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants replacing the NAICC or AICC. “We see it as providing a forum for consultants to be able to exchange information and ideas and provide more help to their clients,” he noted.