Despite declining sales and continuing consolidation of major players, the U.S. crop protection industry remains committed to providing effective materials to the nation’s farmers, says Stan Howell.

“As we look forward and try to project what the industry’s going to look like in the next five years, there’s no doubt we will see further reductions,” he told members of the Southern Crop Production Association at their annual meeting at Amelia Island, Fla.

Howell, vice president-North America for Dow AgroSciences at Indianapolis, Ind., says while the U.S. crop protection industry “has always had a significant economic footprint, unfortunately in recent years the dynamic has been in the direction of overall sales reductions.”

From a high water mark of $9 billion-plus in sales in the late 1990s, he says, current sales are about $6.5 billion annually.

In 2005, that includes $4.3 billion for herbicides, $1.3 billion for insecticides, $715 million for fungicides, and $365 million for other products.

Howell, who is also chair for CropLife America (CLA), the national organization representing ag chemical manufacturers, formulators, distributors, and associate members, says some analysts estimate the industry could be down more than $500 million this year alone.

This trend and factors affecting it “are important as we plan ahead” for CLA programs, he says. “It is going to be absolutely necessary that we focus our resources and money available to us on key issues.”

To that end, “the CLA business plan has been tightened and refocused on issues that matter most to our members.”

These issues and their rankings were determined in a June survey, which had nearly 100 percent participation of members.

Some 50 discrete issues were ranked, Howell says, “and from this we were able to determine the issues that our members consider important and to prioritize them in order of importance.”

These include implications of the Endangered Species Act, water quality, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, spray drift, and other legislative, regulatory, legal, stewardship, and communications issues.

The survey also showed, Howell says, that the CLA membership “very highly values the discipline our organization brings to the table and that they feel they’re getting an excellent return on their investment in CLA.”

He says the annual Capitol Hill visits by CLA and SCPA leaders “have allowed us to have valuable interfaces with key congressional and White House leaders. By showing up and being counted in Washington, we’ve shown our industry is concerned about government policy affecting our industry.”

SCPA and CLA political action committees have been involved in a number of strategic issues, Howell says, demonstrating “strong, effective relationships” with state agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal legislative/regulatory agencies.

“We are a credible advocate on regulatory, legal, and environmental issues, and we have earned a reputation as a trusted source for the media on these key issues. We also have great relationships with national farm and commodity organizations.

“Our advocacy efforts are stronger because we work with other industry groups to resolve issues together, frame constituencies together, and share resources.

“We have a number of tools that make our advocacy work, starting with a foundation of sound science. As long as we have knowledge and truth on our side, we can make progress,” Howell said.

Charles Morris, SCPA president, said the southern association has “remained financially sound, despite a shrinking industry,” and continues to “take a proactive stance on issues that concern us.”

He said SCPA is the only regional association in the industry that has a full-time staff person dedicated to state and federal regulatory affairs.

“On our annual trip to Capitol Hill, we visited 85 congressmen, senators, and key staff members representing our 15 southern states, to discuss key industry issues and do valuable networking.

“Through these visits and grassroots contacts with legislators back home, SCPA is able to strengthen its influence in shaping federal legislation that affects our industry.”

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com