The supply of proprietary dormant alfalfa seed – conventional and Roundup Ready – looks to be adequate for 2013 spring plantings while non-dormant supplies are already tight, say representatives of major alfalfa-seed companies.
Prices of fall-dormant varieties have been pretty static, but don’t expect the same next March, says Paul Frey, president-CEO of Cal/West Seeds.
“Going into spring, we probably are going to see strong prices because seed companies … are having to compete for the acres that farmers have available for seed production. To get the acres, we’re having to increase the contract prices to the seed producers and, ultimately, that’s going to result in higher prices for hay growers.”
Tight supplies of non-dormant seed – exported largely to Mexico, Argentina and Saudi Arabia but with a domestic market mostly in California, New Mexico and Arizona – also translate to higher prices, Frey says.
“We definitely don’t have enough seed to meet all the needs of our customers, and I’m thinking primarily of export markets,” he points out. “The supply out of Australia is way down because of weather and insect issues. They had a severe problem with a seed wasp that reduced yields.”
California’s Imperial Valley, which also produces non-dormant seed, received untimely rains that reduced the seed crop, say Mike Velde, Dairyland Seed alfalfa breeder and Matt Fanta, Forage Genetics International vice president of marketing and sales.
There wasn’t much of an inventory carryover coming into this year, adds Fanta, due to this year’s disappointing Australian harvest and also last year’s.
Despite that, U.S. growers will probably be able to find non-dormant alfalfas for sale. “You may not get the variety you want, but there is seed around,” Frey says.
Common seed supplies also look to be short and prices higher, says Velde.
“The main reason why is there are just fewer growers growing that seed – there are just so many other alternatives that are probably more profitable for those seed growers.”
Velde predicts less of a price difference between proprietary and common seed than there’s been in the past.
More Roundup Ready alfalfas are coming on the market in 2013, says Fanta. Although arriving late on the 2011 spring-seed-sales market after gaining deregulation status for the second time, the transgenic alfalfa saw an increase in demand by growers this year, he says.
“Adoption is higher in places that measure the quality of their alfalfa, that irrigate and that utilize weed control,” Fanta says.
For a listing of Roundup Ready and conventional varieties currently on the market, see the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance’s annual alfalfa variety leaflet on pages VL-1 through VL-8.
High alfalfa-hay prices have generated “high interest in alfalfa” that Robin Newell believes will translate into increased alfalfa seed sales.
“As you know, we’ve had several years of slight declines in alfalfa production acres in North America,” says Dupont Pioneer’s senior forage business manager. “I think some of that’s finally coming back to be reflected in the price of hay and the price of forages in general. I think we’re seeing some renewed interest in planting.”
Frey agrees – to a point. “There does seem to be a little more strength on the eastern side of the country this year, and I think that’s probably due to past weather issues during primary planting times. Now they’ve got some opportunities to plant, so it’s not an increase in the market, just a return of a more-normal pattern from a depressed pattern.”
Brent Johnson, Nexgrow alfalfa brand manager, has seen some strong late-summer seeding activity and anticipates increased spring sales and seedings.
“The areas that we probably had the biggest bounce back were Kansas and western Nebraska. Where they had the ability to put water on, a lot of those growers went back to alfalfa,” he says.