Within the next few days most of you will be receiving the October/November issue of Farm Equipment that features our 2013 Dealer Outlook & Trends report. This is based on the annual survey we conduct of North American dealers.

Just prior to the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, in early September, I had the opportunity to travel for a day with some investment fund managers visiting farm equipment dealers in Iowa. At some point during one of the meetings, someone asked me what I thought about equipment sales in the year ahead. Based on my conversations with dealers, I told them I thought sales might be down by as much as 10%. Several times during the next hour or so, I was asked why. I told them dealers didn’t seem as confident this year as they were last year at this time, but at that point, my comment was all based on empirical data. It was that, and that it was obvious that the impact of the widespread drought of 2012 and farmers’ reaction to it was the biggest “unknown” going into the new selling season.

Now, the results of our annual survey add more credence to those comments.

Last year at this time, 55.3% of dealers surveyed forecast new equipment sales would rise by 2% or more. This year, the percentage fell to 42.6%. The percentage of dealers who believed sales would decline by 2% or more a year ago was only 11.5% vs. 26.4% this year.

But there were other indications from this year’s survey that showed that dealers are not nearly as confident as they were one year ago. One was the number of pre-sells this year vs. last year. According to our most recent survey, almost identical percentages of dealers say their early orders are down (24.9%) compared with 25.3% who reported their pre-sells are up compared with a year earlier.

On top of this, less than 6% of dealers surveyed said they “don’t” expect a price increase on new equipment for 2013. A big majority — 86.4% — believes price hikes for new machinery will range from 1% to 6%.

On a positive note, more than 82% of dealers say that order cancellations were about the same as last year, with only about 10% reporting cancelled orders were higher compared with 2011.

Dealer comments were also telling about their uncertain outlook looking ahead. An Indiana dealer put it this way, “Farm income is such an unknown for 2013, and I am not sure where it will end up. I have given my answers [to the survey] but I am not confident they will be accurate as time plays out. I plan to be very cautious in ordering in 2013 until I have a clearer picture of the conditions we will be dealing with.”

All of this is not to say that we’re looking at a difficult year in 2013. What it does say is there seems to be more unknowns than usual for dealers to think about.

Also included with the October/November issue of the magazine is the complete program for the upcoming “Dealership Minds Summit,” the first conference of its kind for dealers only, this coming January. More than a dozen dealers from our Dealership of the Year Alumni Group will be speaking on topics you’ll want hear about. Click here for a look at the program.