19 Sep Owner Feature: Terry Talbot
Budgeting key to helping ag retailer, customers weather tough times
Growers in Colusa County, California — one of the most diversified agricultural areas in the country — are adapting and doing what they can to sustain their operations amidst some of the greatest challenges the region’s faced in the last century. Some of the toughest growing conditions in decades make agriculture a tough slog for Terry Talbot’s grower partners. So he’s made it his job to go above and beyond the ordinary job of an ag retailer to help them succeed.
“We’re facing some tough times right now, but I’m an optimistic guy,” said Talbot, President and CEO of Colusa County Farm Supply, Inc., a full-service ag retailer based in Williams, California. “In this industry, you have to be able to adapt and make decisions on the fly to stay productive. Our growers are some of the most resourceful people on the planet, and when times get tough, they just know how to get through it, come hell or high water.”
President and CEO
Colusa County Farm Supply, Inc.
Applying life lessons to ag retail
A lifelong resident of Colusa County, Talbot grew up in a family in which “the dollar was tight,” so he learned early in life the importance of living and working within a budget. Today, he applies that lesson to working with Colusa County’s diversified grower partners who raise rice, corn and other perennial small grains and row crops as well as permanent crops like almonds, walnuts and pistachios.
That’s been tough in recent years, with prices for common inputs like fertilizer and basic crop protection products trending higher based on disrupted supply chains, tight inventories and other challenges. Many cost complications start in the global market but quickly make their way to the farm level. It has a lot of Talbot’s grower partners looking at ways to adapt.
“For the first time in many years, our customers are generally looking at sticking to budgets the best they can. Some are trying to figure out how they can get by with less than 100% of their inputs and fertilizer and still make their crops pencil out,” he said. “Cutting rates on fertility has been one of the most talked-about topics all season this year.”
The fine line of cutting crop budgets
Some permanent crop growers have been able to cut fertility rates to better adhere to preset crop budgets. It’s in some ways a dangerous trend that could have long-term effects on the productivity of the land. But as part of an integrated approach incorporating potential alternative products and systems, Talbot said growers have been able to “shave five percent off total nitrogen use,” a trend that is likely to continue as long as output doesn’t suffer and growers can maintain necessary production levels without incurring too much cost.
“There’s a fine line to walk with cutting rates but maintaining long-term crop and soil fertility,” Talbot said. “There are alternative products out there, but they’re not all proven, so that contributes to the uncertainty. I think as long as cost inflation is an issue, growers will continue to look at ways to trim their fertilizer costs to stay within overall budgets.”
The risks of switching crops
Especially with increasing limits on ag water availability, Talbot said his customers’ focus on basic budgeting is sharpening. That means more are considering changing crop mixes — even on some acres historically devoted to permanent crops — as a way to sustain farm revenue in a time when a lot of growers are in “survival mode.” That’s often a difficult decision to make, requires both short- and long-term thinking and the involvement of a trusted ag retailer.
“There’s not a consistent business plan for all of our growers right now. If I was farming and had to prioritize my costs, I would consider what crops I can make the most money at with the smallest amount of crop inputs. That needs to take into account everything, including water, fertility and crop protection,” Talbot said. But you can only rotate to so many crops in so many ways before you start to run into long-term issues with pest control and fertility.”
Reason for optimism moving forward
The challenges of drought and tight crop budgets and the strategies growers are considering to overcome them are pressuring everyone in the region of California where Talbot lives and works. But he’s optimistic his company and grower partners will overcome them. Aligned Ag Distributors ownership is part of that effort for Talbot; he’s able to grow a competitive edge that would otherwise be dulled by the myriad factors lining up against him and his customers.
“Aligned Ag really puts us in a very competitive stance on the crop protection side. I don’t think we’d be able to keep growing our business or be successful without them. No way,” Talbot said. “Every ag retailer — large and small — has had their wings clipped by this drought, but we’re all working to get on that acre. Aligned Ag allows me to be competitive on the value side as a full-service retailer, and I can concentrate on running the business and increasing our grower share.”
Looking ahead, Talbot will parlay that heightened focus into helping his grower partners be better and, put simply, stay successful on every acre.
“Our growers have the ability to adapt and make proactive decisions on things like the technology that’s always changing,” Talbot said. “We’re not wallowing in our sorrows around here.”