For golf course superintendents, there might be no better way to plan ahead than by taking advantage of the early-order programs (EOP) offered to us by the various chemical companies we do business with.

Keep in mind that to fully commit to an EOP, superintendents must take a gander into the old crystal ball – in other words, try to predict what the next year will bring. Of course, past history and trends definitely help predict the future, but as we all know, each year is different. And with climate change in full force, predicting how the next year will unfold is getting a little trickier.

Late fall and early winter are when most of us make our plans for the upcoming year, and of course this is when the EOPs tend to be offered. In fact, most of these programs have an end-of-the-year expiration date, usually being available between October and December. It helps that many of us also do our budgets for the following year about the same time, so knowing how much money you can allocate to plant protectants (fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, plant growth regulators, wetting agents, etc.) is very helpful when evaluating these programs.

Of course, manufacturers know that too. The timing of these programs is not coincidental. Corbett Schnatmeyer, a sales specialist at BASF, told me this “is the best time of year to get great pricing and rebate opportunities. There is a tremendous amount of effort put into these programs to make sure each superintendent can get products they need at a discounted price.”

That last point Corbett made is an important one. Each superintendent – regardless of the type of club they work for, where they are located geographically, or their budget size – wants the best deal possible, although the final numbers will probably look different for each person.

“We put together package deals we at BASF call ‘cubes,'” Corbett continued. “The cubes offer discounted prices while earning rebate dollars as well. Each cube is designed for a different part of the country. We understand there is no ‘one size fits all’ cube for every golf course in the country.”

I suppose someone could argue that it might be a safer course of action if we didn’t participate in EOPs, and therefore did not commit budget money to early purchases of these products for the upcoming year.

For instance, what if we buy products that we don’t end up using, for one reason or another? Wetting agents are a good example. You might purchase upwards of 60 gallons or more of a wetting agent through an EOP for the next summer’s fairway applications, but what if you have an unexpectedly wet season? You could be stuck with a lot of unused product.

I don’t think you can escape the fact that there is a certain level of risk associated with EOPs. But if you shop wisely, you can keep that risk low and fairly manageable.

Past history and trends help to predict your needs for next year, but of course you need some contingencies for different weather scenarios.

In my research of the 2018 EOPs being offered, I found that the driving force behind most of them (if not all) seems to be saving money, combined with delivering you a great product. Winfield United, which once again is offering perhaps the most extensive EOP for the golf industry, says on page 86 of its 2018 EOP document, “Order Early. Save Green.” The green, no doubt, refers to money but also the finely cut turf beneath your feet.

BASF’s 2018 EOP headline reads, “Prepare to save. Prepare to Innovate. Prepare to win.” Again, they’re blending savings with the promise of a great golf course.

Nufarm tells us that taking advantage of their EOP will “Reward your commitment to growth.”

SiteOne (John Deere Landscape Supplies) wants us to use their EOP to “Order like a pro. Getting out ahead – that’s what it means to be a pro.”

The obvious benefits of EOPs include extended payments – which often are not due until the following summer – discounts, rebates and occasionally various “additional rewards.”

Another reason superintendents may want to consider EOPs was presented to me by Steven Harris, CGCS at SiteOne Golf and one of the companies offering an EOP. “In many cases,” Harris said, “EOP savings can bring the cost of brand-name chemicals down to the level of post-patent products while still giving the superintendent the peace of mind of having the backing of the manufacturer.”

That is a great point I hadn’t considered before. One other benefit he brought up, at least as it applies to SiteOne’s EOP, is that it’s not limited to plant protectants only. “The SiteOne EOP gives superintendents the opportunity to include play supplies, plant material, drainage or any other product needed for their course for the upcoming year,” Harris explained.

I think it’s safe to say EOPs are a win-win for both parties, as long as the superintendent keeps to the budget and doesn’t go on spending spree. Plan accordingly and reap the rewards.