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Agriculture

Pace Picking Up

Late summer is normally a fairly quiet time. Not this year.

I’m scrambling to cover the bases before heading out into the sultry weather of the South for a ten day road trip working with a number of projects.

I’ll work for the 16th straight year as faculty for one of the most prestigious leadership education programs in agriculture. Attendees are state leaders for associations and check-off programs for America’s biggest cash crops. I’ve enjoyed the long association and am always flattered to be asked back.

A stressed industry is next: telecommunications. The flood of competition is stressing long term successful companies in the field. Strong price competition. Uneven application of government funding. Critical culture changes from a formerly regulated environment to hyper-competition are all causing massive pain. My client is in the middle of it. Two days of strategy discussion and advising.

Finally a long drive to deliver the Vigilant Leadership seminar to the top officials at one of our government’s largest agencies. I’m looking forward to adding another client in this sector where I’ve been working more lately.

Fall

Late summer and fall were extraordinarily busy for us. Primarily due to the uncertain economic situation and high demand from some of our primary segments, especially agriculture.
I spent an especially interesting time with the Ag Industry Council of the National Corn Growers Association. Not only was the Mackinac Island location one of the more beautiful destinations but the discussions were fascinating. I don’t know of many associations who do a better job of integrating with their industry partners. This is one of America’s best-run associations with major perception issues.
Their industry council covers the range of agribusiness companies like Syngenta, Monsanto, Dow as well as big players like John Deere, BNSF, and CHS. They have many mutual interests and issues to discuss. The presentations ranged from foresight to social media to discussions of major issues. There was a fascinating side meeting on a future development that I hope to be able to write about some day.
I tire of the talking points from some quarters who keep referring to “millionaire corn farmers.” In order to even be in the agriculture sector today an operator has to have substantial financial resources and very high credit access. There are millionaire retail owners, millionaire dry cleaners, millionaire grocery store owners, even a lot of millionaire consultants around.
But none of the “millionaires” in other sectors roll the entire enterprise out on the line every year like a corn farmer does. This last year was an example. Weather caused most operators to have to replant their crop in the spring due to too much moisture, massively spiking their overhead. Then, when it came time to harvest their crop, they ran into the same situation and couldn’t get equipment into the cornfields to get the crop.
The risks are huge in this industry. The producers are families. The economics force them to operate on large acreages. But these are not what the image of millionaire evokes. They are modest, practical, middle-class families who love the land and the life they live.

Mid-year Update 2009

2009 has been a year of more and more interesting work. Uncertainty calls for more organizations to retain futurists.
It's not a surprise that Bob is asked to forecast the economic times ahead. Almost every group bringing him to conferences, strategy sessions, and decision-making meetings asks for time to be spent on the recession, anticipated recovery, and robust strategies and tactics for difficult times. Bob has addressed regional economic conferences, trade associations, financial institutions, government agencies, economic development groups, and a cross-section of industries in North America and Europe.
Bob's been using a unique set of scenarios for the next five years of the U.S. economy. This work stems from engagements late in 2008 and early 2009 that wrestled with the brutal conditions affecting clients in commercial construction, high-tech manufacturing, and government agencies dependent on variable tax revenues. His 3-4 scenario approach with forecast percentages is different from the standard predictions made by economists.
One client, after an economic forecast, wrote: "I have heard other economic experts present and there are 2 primary observations: 1) they offer dozens of statistics and show how smart they are but haven't properly pulled it together in a cohesive way for their audience and 2) They get pulled into the "expert" trap and start telling people WHAT to think. Your presentation, in just one short hour, helped the audience with HOW to think about their own business forecasts."
Every year has a different emphasis for Treadway & Associates. 2009 has seen significant time spent with organizations in the agriculture sector. Bob conducted presentations, educational seminars, and planning sessions with a cross section of groups dealing with new demands, evolving trade regulations, escalating volatility for inputs and outputs, challenges from interest groups, and refocused marketing efforts. His covered North America with special emphasis on agriculture in the Midwestern United States. In one of his most interesting projects in the agriculture sector Bob facilitated a top-level "leader to leader summit" between one of the world's largest agribusiness companies and the leadership of one of America's most important commodity associations.
This year he's called on to forecast the long term effects of volatility, consumer sentiment, alternative energy, and a drop in market prices for agricultural producers, associations, retailers, and suppliers. He is also spending a substantial amount of time with young agriculture professionals. For a second year he presented an educational seminar for a state gathering of young ag couples. He follows that engagement with an even larger gathering where he'll address the considerable challenges to entering traditional production agriculture for a young person and share best practices for long term planning. He also spend time interacting with university students in agriculture trying to help them prepare for the next three decades of change in the sector.
During 2008 Bob was with over a dozen boards of directors and senior management teams in the financial services sector. That emphasis continues in 2009. The landscape of financial services has been shaken hard over the past year and even more emphasis on building robust plans for the future is a theme for 2009. Bob's work in this area runs the gamut from consulting projects to foresight presentations to full facilitation of strategic and tactical plans. He has a special affinity for credit unions, working with not only some of America's largest institutions but with the "movement's" regulator-insurer.
We welcome back clients who have retained Bob for over a decade. The core of our business is made up of clients that we've served well and have continued to use Bob's forecasting, strategy consulting, facilitation, and pedagogical skills. Clients in manufacturing, financial services, agribusiness, telecommunications, and energy joined those ranks in 2008.
Over the years Bob has worked even more with clients outside the United States. He traveled to 12 countries and 134 cities in 2007-2008. The global emphasis continues the trend in 2009. This is a reflection of the truly global scope of business and government in this day and age.
In response to clients who want a real time tracking of observations and information we've started a feed on Twitter. You can follow Bob
here.