Rain, hail and even snow have reduced proprietary and common alfalfa seed yields this year. With already low seed inventories coming into the buying season and the likelihood that demand will be above normal next spring, that makes for tight 2014 alfalfa seed supplies all around.
So predict representatives of alfalfa breeding companies. They all urge growers to order early if they want specific varieties.
“The weather in the alfalfa seed-producing areas has been very challenging this fall. Between hailstorms and rain, they’ve delayed harvest. Hail destroyed some fields that weren’t able to be harvested at all,” says Dave Robison, forage and cover-crop manager with Legacy Seeds.
About 20% of the alfalfa seed acres were “wiped out” in California’s Imperial Valley, a major production area. All the major alfalfa-seed-producing companies were affected in some way, surmises Mark Grewal, president and CEO of S & W Seed Co.
“The common seed market got hurt the worst because it was the last to be harvested,” he adds.
The South Dakota snowstorm that struck in early October put a 5” blanket on some alfalfa fields grown for proprietary seed. But common, or variety-not-stated, alfalfa seed took the brunt of the damage, says Robison.
In the northwestern U.S., where much of the dormant alfalfa seed (fall dormancy 1-6) is produced, a cool, wet spring slowed growth, says Robin Newell, DuPont Pioneer senior business manager for forage.
“Then they had a couple of weeks of very hot temperatures when alfalfa was just beginning to pollinate. When we came in to harvest and started to get some rain, that really takes the top off of seed yields. It was a disappointing year,” he says.
“We are going to have enough seed overall, but I wish I had more of some new varieties.” Carryover stocks, however, are in good shape for his company.
Matt Fanta calls 2013 an “average” seed production year for Forage Genetics International (FGI). “By no means was it a great year from a yield standpoint, but we did get good yields from a number of places.”
The demand for seed to replace winterkilled alfalfa in the Upper Midwest “was so strong that there’s not a lot of carryover inventory as we go into 2014,” says Fanta, FGI president. He estimates there was an increase in late-summer alfalfa plantings on prevented-plant acres in that region as well.
“We might see a slightly higher planting in 2014 in the Midwest because I don’t think there was enough seed available (this year) to get all those acres planted,” says Ron Cornish. “Nor was the weather cooperating to get them planted.”
Non-dormant seed supplies (fall dormancy 7-10) are very tight, says Cornish, the North American marketing and commercial leader for Alforex, formerly Cal West Seeds and Dairyland Seed and now owned by Dow AgroSciences. “We’ve really had a large global demand and, also, issues with production in Australia and in the Imperial Valley of California.”
“For the last two to three years, there hasn’t been any inventory for non-dormants,” says Grewal, whose company, after recent acquisitions, now provides the lion’s share of non-dormant alfalfa seed in the world.
“S & W is okay, but we’re only okay because we have an Australian operation also. It was a decent harvest year there. It wasn’t a bumper crop; they just finally had a crop after two back-to-back poor years.”
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