Chapter 4 - Forecasting demand

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The factors which affect demand
Demand forecasting techniques
Growth trends used in a commercial context


By not adequately estimating demand the consequence may be over production or underproduction, both of which can cause serious financial consequences for a seed company. Too much carryover and stock write-offs will be costly while a lack of seed not only means lost revenue but is also a source of frustration for the sales force and the dealer network.

This combination of special features in the seed industry makes the accurate assessment of demand even more critical. Some of these features are the:

long lead time for the development of new products from breeding programmes;
seasonality of production ;
production subject to variables like climate which are outside the control of management;
statutory controls and quality standards;
existence of a generation system - whereby the production in one year is the progenitor of the next;
limited 'shelf life and loss of germination;
the high volume: low value ratio of some seed crops dike cereals makes long-distance transport and long-term storage unattractive.

The first step in demand forecasting is to calculate the existing requirement x percent bought seed) is the amount of commercial seed that is purchased by farmers.

In calculating seed requirement, seed application rates must be taken into account, i.e. the difference between a crop grown for grain or forage, the difference between irrigated and dry land, the difference between a crop which is sown directly or transplanted. It is also important to define the various categories of seed that exist in the market, as an understanding of these segments will assist in the assessment of demand. Seed can be categorized as being:

grain retained on farm and used as seed;
grain bartered for seed at village or neighbour level;
grain sold as unlabelled seed bought from a market or trader;
certified or labelled seed bought from the distribution system.

Local custom and practice may be such that grain is retained on farm for use as seed. Alternatively, farmers may replace seed every three to five years. Recognizing that grain of inbred crops will be retained by farmers for use as seed if it is possible to do so, the challenge for the seed industry is to convert as much as possible of the unofficially traded seed to certified or labelled seed sales.

The factors which affect demand

Demand, to the seed seller, is the quantity that buyers are willing and able to purchase at a particular price. This is called effective demand and is not the same as the seed requirement. It is important to distinguish between the amount of seed farmers will actually buy and how much they would like to buy, or indeed how much the government would like them to buy. The total amount of certified or labelled seed sold may be quite a small proportion of the total requirement.

Many factors have to be considered when assessing and forecasting demand. Some of these are:

cropping pattern and intensity
extension of irrigation areas; development of double cropping systems and multiple cropping of intensively grown crops; competing crops; new crops; rotations

seed use
type of seed used, i.e. non-hybrid or hybrid; variations under different farming systems, such as irrigated or dry land, and grade of seed used, e.g. if seed is graded and mechanically sown

rainfall and temperature patterns

demand for crop products
commodity demand; export demand; agro-industrial development

market situation
commodity prices; yield levels; prices of seed and other inputs and farm costs; cost of growing competing crops

disposable farm income
levels of farm income; what a farmer will spend on seed; availability of credit

rate or level of adoption of new technology
farming techniques; mechanization (precision drills use less seed); hybrids replacing non-hybrid varieties; adoption of new varieties and certified seed

government policy
subsidies and other inducements such as price support and credit; privatization; extension programmes; import or export policy and duty levels

crop cycles
frequency of good years and poor years; occurrence of natural disasters

habits and traditions
socio-economic factors

product performance
comparison with e alternative varieties

the choice the farmer has of using alternative varieties and suppliers; how do the suppliers compare in terms of image, convenience of supply, customer support'?

how prices compare with alternative sources?

special promotion campaigns being planned

When an individual company or organization is estimating the market share which may be gained by its own products, product performance, competitive positioning, price and promotion are the most important factors which need to be taken into account. This will form the basis of sales' forecasting and production planning.

The effect of price and farm income on demand

In general, 'the higher the price the lower the quantity purchased', especially where there are substitutes available. In the case of seed, farmers can retain the grain of non-hybrid crops, switch from hybrids to non-hybrids or grow different crops.

In addition to price, farm income is the major limiting factor affecting what a farmer will spend on inputs. The farmer will have to balance the cost versus the benefit before being persuaded to spend money on inputs such as seed and fertilizers. Unfortunately, seed is often the one item that the farmer believes it is possible to save money on, even though less is usually spent on seed than on any other input. He will ask the questions: "What are the chances of getting a return on my investment?"-"Will the rains cornet:"-"What will the market be like for the produce? " It must be recognized that there are conflicting demands on farm income and the supplier of inputs is competing for that income.

Marketing and promotional campaigns are designed to persuade farmers that seed represents good value. Farmers often do not attribute value to seed since, in the case of grain, they think they are producing the very product which they are being sold. Thus it would seem to many farmers that they could just as easily replant their own grain.

Demand forecasting techniques

Forecasting is the process of making projections of demand for products by examining past and present performance levels, combined with an assessment of available products and markets. This may be carried out within the government service or by individual companies in a purely commercial context. The following approaches can be used:

target setting;
growth trends;
growth rates adjusted for new technology adoption;

Target setting. This method is commonly used in developing countries where government is directly involved in planning and seed supply. In a centrally managed economy, targets are likely to be set at a national level and production plans fixed for each region.

India is an example of a more open economy where both the public and private sectors coexist in a well-developed seed industry, but where the government retains a coordinating function and has the ultimate responsibility for the security of seed supply. The Ministry of Agriculture sets the targets and organizes meetings to establish the supply situation and production plans of the various organizations involved.

Companies may opt to set a target for an ideal sales level while, at the same time, recognizing that this is unlikely to be achieved and budgeting for a more achievable situation.

Growth trends. This approach is based on the assumption that the rate of growth of seed demand as seen in past years will continue. This may give unrealistically high forecasts and will depend on the stage of market development for improved seeds. Small increases in volume in the early stages of improved seed use will represent a large increase in percentage terms, which may not be possible to sustain.

Growth rates adjusted for new technology adoption. Using this approach a given region is considered on the basis of degrees of new technology uptake and the likely speed of change. Each part of the region can then be categorized as 'low' to 'medium' or 'high' growth, better reflecting the overall situation.

Sampling. The accuracy of the above approaches can be improved if sample groups of farmers are questioned to gauge their anticipated demand for seed. This exercise is more reliable where there is a reasonable awareness of the benefits of using improved seeds.

Growth trends used in a commercial context

Historical sales can be examined to develop trend lines but the resulting projections must always be reviewed with the benefit of judgment and experience. Seasonal patterns and the variance between years need to be explained. Sales data from previous years are examined by preparing a graph of monthly and cumulative sales and comparing the different years. A graph of successive years gives the overall trend and should answer the following questions:

is the market expanding or contracting?
if company sales are to be expanded in existing markets, shares will be taken from which competitors?
are increased sales going to come from existing customers or from new ones'?
what products are being launched or phased out?

The sales forecast for each crop group is the total of individual variety forecasts. Thus each variety has to be considered as a different product line at different stages in its life cycle.

When forecasting demand, a certain percentage should not just be added to the previous year's figures as the previous year may not have been typical. It is necessary to create a market-based forecast involving people in the company, as well as those in the distribution chain. If a company expects to increase its sales by ten percent the dealers will need to plan accordingly. Demand forecasts prepared by dealers need to be discussed with them if they do not correspond to the company's forecasts. For instance, it is possible that a dealer was left with carryover stock as a result of a late delivery in the previous season. Alternatively, local conditions may not correspond to the wider picture in the company's area.

The following is an example of a process adopted by an international company operating in a developing seed market:

1. The company holds a planning meeting involving the entire sales and marketing team. The individual sales representatives have collected market intelligence during the season and the sales manager has prepared an analysis of the sales for the current and previous years. Figures are recorded on a large board and refined as the discussion progresses.
2. The size and segmentation of the market is first established for the product group under discussion with any changes, trends or special factors being noted.
3. The market volume in the current year is allocated to each competitor noting shares of particular varieties. As much information as possible has been collected about production and farmers' reactions to competing varieties. Information should also be available about the level of seed imports.
4. The forecast demand for individual varieties in the company's portfolio is then considered in the light of pricing, the dealers' comments on whether the varieties are 'as good as' or 'better than' the competition, the dealers' commission structure and planned promotional activities.

Once again the Seed Co-op in Zimbabwe provides a good example, illustrating how external and government organizations are involved and contribute to the process. The Seed Co-op, in addition to analysing its own data, gathers information from farmers, government statistics and associated businesses, such as chemical and fertilizer companies, to provide greater accuracy in forecasting. In Zimbabwe, where most commercial food crops have been marketed through parastatals, proposed pricing for the next season is a critical factor. Market research is also undertaken.

Government staff carry out extensive surveys of crops planted, yields achieved, crop sales and residues retained on-farm for home consumption. Six small-scale farmers are studied in each administrative district, representing different climatic regions, and providing a very comprehensive database. This data is then compared with information received from the Commercial Farmers' Union, the Central Statistics Office and the Early Warning Unit, which take into account all the types of farming system.

These studies provide the industry with critical information about potential seed requirements which, when considered together with company sales trends and other external factors, remove some of the guesswork from forecasting demand.

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