Ag chem industry watching COVID-19’s spread

MarketsFarm –– China is a major producer of agricultural chemicals — and disruptions to production would have a ripple effect on North American supplies of crop protection inputs, such as herbicides and insecticides.

Plant closures and transportation issues due to the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus are being followed closely, but the Canadian industry is reportedly well supplied heading into the 2020 growing season.

“A lot of product is usually committed well into a year or two in advance,” said Mitch Rezansoff, executive director of the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers in Winnipeg.

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In many cases, the active chemical ingredient of a pesticide is produced overseas, then the end product is formulated in North America. Formulation takes place in late fall and into the spring.

“Traditionally, the retail trade and the manufacturers try to position product based on how it’s going to be consumed, and there’s only so much storage capacity at the retail level or at the farm gate,” Rezansoff said.

“There’s a fair bit of movement of fertilizers and pesticides that happens throughout the season, and any disruption is not good,” he added.

“We haven’t heard concerns from our members on this to date,” a media representative of CropLife Canada said via email. CropLife Canada is an industry association representing the plant science sector.

“Much of the production for the upcoming crop season was produced, shipped and already waiting in warehouses in North America prior to the outbreak,” CropLife added.

The association noted most of Canada’s pesticide imports come from the United States, with China a much smaller supplier.

“However, the United States imports product ingredients, bulk formulated product and retail-ready product from other countries, including China.”

Canada imported roughly $1.8 billion worth of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals in 2019, according to Statistics Canada data. Of that total, $1.4 billion came from the U.S. and only $76 million from China.

“We are closely monitoring the developments of the COVID-19 virus situation with colleagues around the world, and continue to have adequate supplies of inputs to supply the Canadian market,” Bayer Canada said in an email.

“Should any constraints occur based on the ongoing developments, we will communicate with our distribution partners and retails in the same manner we would with any constrained supply situation,” Bayer added.

BASF Agricultural Solutions’ Canadian division is also “closely monitoring the situation and continuously evaluating any potential consequences to our business as a result of the severity, spread and duration of the outbreak,” according to an emailed statement. The chemical company has not seen any shortages or supply interruptions.

“While we do not foresee any impact or disruption to the supply of BASF products in Canada as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, we are committed to providing open and transparent communication with our customers at all times,” said BASF, adding “we will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that any unforeseen disruptions are addressed as soon as possible.”

While coronavirus-related supply disruptions are not yet a concern, Rezansoff said Canadian agri-retailers were keeping an eye on any potential supply disruptions related to recent rail blockades across the country.

The possibility of a late start to spring seeding in the U.S. could also lead to nearby shortages — and customers not receiving supplies when they are supposed to.

Fertilizer applications, in particular, could be pushed back in the U.S. if there is a later start to seeding there, which would push the U.S. demand window to the same time Canadians are looking for product.

“I hope we have a staggered start, which we traditionally do, but there’s no guarantee,” Rezansoff said.

— Phil Franz-Warkentin reports for MarketsFarm from Winnipeg.

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