Alfalfa seed prices will be higher and the supply tight again this year. So growers should buy seed early — and get it delivered earlier than usual, says Mike Velde, alfalfa breeder with Dairyland Seed.

Supply is tighter for non-dormant alfalfa varieties than for dormant seed, adds Paul Frey, President-CEO of Cal/West Seeds, another major alfalfa breeding company. Alfalfa seed with fall dormancies of 6 on up are predominately produced in California, although some is grown in the Pacific Northwest.

“With the water shortages that we have had and the competitive crops that farmers can plant, there are fewer acres available for production of alfalfa seed and fewer growers interested in growing alfalfa seed in California,” says Frey. “That is putting pressure on non-dormant supplies.

“The same thing is true in dormants, but to a much lesser extent,” he adds. Dormant varieties — up to fall dormancy 5 — are grown across Canada and the northern U.S.

“Our dormant supply is better than our non-dormant,” agrees Velde, for many of the same reasons Frey mentioned.

Yields of much of the economy or common seed produced in Saskatchewan and Manitoba will be low this year because of wet weather, Velde says. “So the lower-priced seed will not be lower priced.”

In Alberta, which largely produces proprietary seed, Velde expects an average harvest. Weather affected dormant seed in a few northwestern states. “I don't know how the yields are out of Wyoming and Montana, but they had 4” of rain. The reason why we're there is that we don't want our seed to get wet. Those yields are probably average or below,” he says.

Few new conventional varieties have been introduced the past few years and this year is no exception, says Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin forage specialist. The reason: Some companies geared up for Roundup Ready alfalfa and had little conventional seed in the pipeline.

Seed distributors are already saying sales are up, he says. “I think we may be recovering some of the acreage that we lost to corn. I talked to several companies that said they sold more than they did last year. When you hear a number of them say the same thing, they're not just taking it away from each other.”

That's all the more reason to buy yet this fall, says Velde. “I would make sure not to wait until March to think about what my seed needs are for forages. I would get it booked this fall and not wait until April to get it delivered. Plan ahead like they do with their corn hybrids.”

“Select the best variety,” Frey advises. “In today's economy, it's more important than ever to select the best, high-yielding trait-rich varieties for your farm. There is a 20-25% yield advantage between average and best varieties. If a certain brand or variety is in short supply, there are great products available as alternatives. Accepting a less-desirable substitute variety could cost you in the long run. There is seed available.”