As much as we want to get back to a normal year, we’re simply not there yet. Challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic still ripple on our shorelines for the 2021 growing season, along with the typical new challenges that every year brings us.

Looking back, I don’t think we should be surprised by these lingering effects. After all, the past 12 months have been anything but normal, and every growing season seems to bring with it a theme of its own. As it turns out, the theme of 2021 carries with it complications not yet resolved from 2020, resulting in crop protection product price increases, logistics challenges and production constraints.

Many of the raw ingredients used in crop protection products originate from overseas, China specifically. While much of the U.S. population was in various states of physical distancing, limiting travel and changing our usual behaviors, oceangoing freight began to cater to a different demand. What was once possible containers of raw ingredients for manufacturing supplying various industries quickly became the products of online shopping delivered right to the consumer’s door.

This new trend not only put strains on freight but also packaging, primarily cardboard. The result of this strain has been presenting itself during the past few months. Price increases in glyphosate began in January and rippled through the industry. Most recently, price increases are citing the cost of packaging – cardboard boxes, as a contributing factor.

With many vessels waiting in port to get unloaded with all of our online purchases, we get left with countless empty containers that need to make their trek back to China to be loaded with the materials we need to produce finished goods. As it turns out, the empty containers are simply in the wrong hemisphere.

Recent headlines provide us with the story of The Ever Given. Among the largest cargo ships in the world, The Ever Given can carry 20,000 containers. It had the misfortune of spending six days wedged across the Suez Canal, blocking a trade route of which more than 10% of the world’s trade passes through, including vast amounts of oil. The effects of this event routed ships thousands of additional miles around the African continent, causing untold delays and expense. We have yet to see the full effects this has made on international trade and will certainly continue to ripple into the U.S. agricultural industry.

While all of these events have led to challenges to our industry, it has brought to light the importance of what we have already been doing behind the scenes to buffer the full extent of impact. Our GROWMARK and FS System members have been diligently sourcing products more aggressively to keep our grower customers supplied as we go into another growing season.

Our purchasing behaviors have changed by forecasting more accurately, taking positions early and preparing for “Plan B.” We certainly will not fend off every effect of the lingering pandemic. However, we are very confident in our System’s ability to serve the needs that another year will bring.

Tom Whalen serves as GROWMARK Crop Protection Marketing manager.