Saturday, November 28, 2020

The chemical conundrum

December 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Fen Tiger

Technology means it’s never been easier to compare agrochemical prices, says Fen Tiger.

How much do you pay for your agrochemicals? Many is the time in conversation with farming friends that I have found myself feeling a few pounds in or out of pocket. But you are never really sure what you are comparing prices against.

Certain lookalike chemicals have different trade names. They are usually different strengths, have different active ingredients or different formulations. Add on a variation in can size and it can be even more confusing.

The whole structure of each individual chemical has to be analysed by a university educated boffin or the average farmer spending a morning doing dot-to-dot on a calculator – at the end of which  you pick up the phone and order from your usual supplier.

I have used the same supplier for years. He is a tied agronomist attached to one particular firm. The agreement has worked well. And at the end of each year I usually receive a rebate to compensate for any price fluctuations or movements.

Like-for-like comparison

In recent years, however, the rebate has became smaller and the prices seem less competitive. But like I say, I have always been uneasy about comparisons because products and companies vary so much it is hard to assess them on a like-for-like basis.

So I have mixed feelings about a new service offered by a company which has launched what they call an agrochemical price check. Sign up and you can compare what you are paying for your chemicals with 100% verified prices from the rest of the market.

Why are they doing this? So farmers can accurately compare each chemical purchased. Once you have signed up, you submit an invoice for each product purchased. The service then compares other prices submitted by farmers over a range of products.

It is a useful tool because it compares products that should have the same active ingredients and concentrations. The whole system claims to be confidential and no one ever sees any specific data, which is another bonus.

The service issues users with a “buying score” for each product to help them get the best deal. I am uncertain what this buying score means. I assume it indicates whether you have paid more or less for each individual product than you should have done.

But it does not say whether prices compared are local, county by county or across the whole country. I guess they are for the UK as a whole or perhaps regional. Anyway, when I looked it wasn’t clear whether prices sourced from other countries were taken into account.

The overall cost of the service to the farmer is a little confusing. The sum of £16 per month is mentioned but then so is the word free. I think the cost of running the service is paid by the suppliers who then add this to the purchase price but I’m not sure.

Early feedback commends the firm for its services. Some users acknowledge that prices are  competitive but not enough to move away from existing suppliers. That’s probably wise – after all, not all decisions are made on price alone.

Useful service

All in all, it seems a useful service. I’m left wondering how many major firms have signed up and are they any different from a buying group?

In my experience, buying groups are often cheaper on product but it is important to factor in all charges when calculating savings. Perhaps the website could be described as an updated version of some well known heating oil sites that offer a range of delivered prices at your convenience.

All this shows it is no longer as complicated as it once was to compare prices in today’s transparent technology world. It never ceases to amaze me that so many farmers are prepared to let a slice of their income go to a third party.

It may seem a small percentage but the phrase pennies and pounds spring to mind. Are you really too busy to save your subscription fee and a few pounds on your agrochemical invoice? The site is a good idea but based on an old theory.

Farmers in the past and future have been individuals acting for their own best interests. Until growers band together as one and force suppliers to lower prices, the major agrochemical suppliers will continue to be at an advantage.