If Roundup Ready alfalfa is held off the market for an extended period, the already tight supply of conventional alfalfa seed likely will get tighter, say seed company officials. This year's hay supply could be affected, too, says Mike Peterson, brand manager for W-L Research, Madison, WI. He figures some growers who bought Roundup Ready alfalfa for spring planting will switch to conventional varieties, but others will plant corn or soybeans instead.
"We're already facing some significant hay shortages, and I think this will put another hole in the hay supplies that are going to be coming off in the next year or so," says Peterson.
Even with a partial switchover from alfalfa to row crops, he foresees a shortfall in the alfalfa seed supply. It should be adequate for spring plantings and through later summer and fall seedings in the Midwest and Plains, but probably not for late-fall seedings in the far West, says Peterson.
"I think there's a good chance we will run out, but I don't think it will be early in the planting season; I think it will be toward the end," he states.
Paul Frey, president and CEO of Cal/West Seeds, is less pessimistic, although he agrees that, "There could be a temporary restriction of supply." The preliminary injunction's timing makes it difficult for seed companies to adjust their supply of conventional varieties in the short term, Frey points out. Much of the 2007 seed crop was planted last fall and the rest is being planted now. Even if the timing were better, it may be difficult for companies to contract additional alfalfa seed acreage because of the high value of other crops.
"Farmers in the West have pretty good options right now, so switching to alfalfa seed production is probably not high on their priority list," says Frey.
He emphasizes that, in terms of supply, the Roundup Ready alfalfa seed issue primarily involves Forage Genetics. "Those of us who aren't directly involved are operating our business normally, and we're expanding production to meet the needs for our conventional varieties just as a normal part of our business," he says.
Look for seed prices to increase. Companies have reduced their inventories following several years of surpluses, and seed producers' costs have risen dramatically, so they're being paid more.
"That was happening before all of this, and I'm sure with supply and demand being what it is there could be some additional upward price pressure," says Frey.