Growers can expect higher alfalfa seed prices and lower-quality seed blends going into 2007, say representatives of the alfalfa seed breeding industry.

Overall supplies should be adequate, says Paul Frey, President/CEO of Cal/West Seeds, but some proprietary varieties may be hard to find.

Alfalfa seed prices have increased, Frey adds, “because seed producers' costs have gone up dramatically in recent years for various reasons — fuel prices, steel prices.”

At the same time, proprietary seed inventories are down substantially from where they were five to six years ago, says Mark McCaslin, president of Forage Genetics. “But the industry was literally buried in seed,” he says.

Some seed companies merged or were bought out a few years ago, explains Mike Velde, alfalfa breeder at Dairyland Seed, “and they had huge amounts of inventories that had to go to market.”

“It's like a pendulum that swings from right to left,” compares Frey. “It was way over on one side with way too much seed, so a lot of people were making corrections. Now it appears the pendulum has gone the other way. Although I wouldn't say there is an overall shortage of seed, there are definitely going to be some specific varieties where supplies will be less than what people were hoping for.”

Frey characterizes the shortage in proprietary seed as being on a variety-by-variety basis, more likely with non-dormant alfalfas than with dormant.

The majority of non-dormant seed is produced in California, where seed growers have the option of growing a wide variety of other crops rather than alfalfa seed, Frey says. Weather problems and high hay prices have hurt California's seed crop in recent years. And all that affects seed supply.

Seed blends, which have contained large amounts of proprietary seed the past several years, will be of lower quality this year, McCaslin and Velde warn.

McCaslin says blends, or variety not stated (VNS) products, are a mix of the lower-cost common seed and proprietary seed typically at a 50-50 ratio.

“When the industry was swimming in proprietary seed, the percent of proprietary in VNS blends went a lot higher than that,” he says. “In 2002 and 2003, when inventory was at its worst, it might have been 75-80% proprietary seed. Today VNS blends might average 20% proprietary seed.

“The good news is there is a good crop of Canadian common seed. Canada has had a couple of disaster years and I'm hearing now that there's going to be a much better seed crop this year. So I think the availability of seed for these VNS products is going to be okay, but the mix is going to be more common seed and less proprietary,” McCaslin says.

Velde says growers in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, who at times harvest the final hay cutting for seed, didn't this fall. “From what I've heard, there is not a catch crop this year. So that means that that source of lower-cost common seed is not there.”

Yet the alfalfa seed industry, Velde says, is the healthiest it has been. “Alfalfa inventories are probably getting more in line with what they should be. Which means that when a person buys cheaper-quality seed, that's what he'll get — cheaper quality vs. extra inventory of better seed.”

The best bet, McCaslin says, is to buy seed of a proprietary variety which will offer genetics, traits and performance that will be very consistent year to year.

Frey suggests that growers talk to their seed distributors early to find out which proprietary varieties are in good supply. Even if a grower doesn't get the exact variety he wants, Frey says, there are very good alternatives available.

Alfalfa Seed Companies

AgReliant Genetics — 317-896-5552

Allied Seed — 800-880-8127

America's Alfalfa — 800-873-2532

American Seed Co. — 800-214-3340

American Seeds Inc. — 314.694.3974

Ampac Seed Co. — www.ampacseed.com

Brett-Young Seeds — 800-665-5015

Byron Seed Supply — 800-801-3596

Croplan Genetics — www.croplangenetics.com

Dahlco Seeds Inc. — www.dahlcoseeds.com

Dairyland Seed Co. — 800-236-0163

Eureka Seeds Inc. — 530-661-6995

FFR Cooperative — 765-567-4046

Garst Seed Co. — 888-464-2778

Golden Harvest Seeds — www.goldenharvestseeds.com

Gowan — www.gowanco.com

J.R. Simplot Co. — 208-336-2110

Jung Seed Genetics — 800-242-1855

Legacy Seeds — www.legacyseeds.com

Legend Seeds — 800-678-3346

Monsanto — www.monsanto.com

Mycogen — 800-MYCOGEN

Syngenta NK — www.syngenta.com

Producer's Choice Seeds — 866-744-5710

Pioneer Hi-Bred Int'l — www.pioneer.com

Power Seeds — www.powerseeds.ie

Preferred Seed Co. — 877-417-7333

Seed Consultants Inc. — 800-708-2676

Seedway — www.seedway.com

Southern States Cooperative — www.southernstates.com

S&W Seed Co. — www.swseedco.com

Tri-West Inc. — 208-352-1188

United Agri Products — www.uap.com

W-L Research — www.wlresearch.com

Western Farm Service — www.westernfarmservice.com

Wilbur-Ellis — www.wilburellis.com