Alfalfa, Grass Seed Supplies Tight | Alfalfa content from Hay & Forage Grower

Don’t take for granted that you’ll be able to buy what you want in alfalfa or cool-season grass seed varieties if planting this summer or fall, warn seed company representatives.

“In general, seed is going to be short for grasses, alfalfa and small grains,” says Chad Hale, Byron Seeds research and acquisitions manager and president of the American Forage & Grassland Council.

That’s in part due to the amount of seed directed to the Upper Midwest after many growers found their alfalfa and grass winterkilled this spring. Nearly 1 million alfalfa acres in Wisconsin and another 750,000 acres in Minnesota were lost from winter damage, according to Extension Service reports.

For seed companies, those losses meant “outstanding” spring sales, says Dave Robison, forage and cover crop manager for Legacy Seeds. “We say that wishing it hadn’t been that way, but because of the winterkill issues, we had nearly record alfalfa sales.”

“Extraordinary amounts of (alfalfa) seed went out this spring to dealers” in the Upper Midwest, agrees Matt Fanta, Forage Genetics International president. On top of winter damage, growers there contended with wet weather that slowed and even prevented plantings.

“I think because of the combination of potential weed issues, the late planting dates and the need to produce as much high-quality forage as possible in the seeding year, we’ve seen really strong use and adoption of Roundup Ready alfalfa in those areas,” Fanta says. Roundup Ready alfalfa seed has traditionally seen much of its demand in the West, he adds.

Generally, growers shouldn’t expect to see all of their favorite conventional or transgenic alfalfas well at hand in fall, say Fanta and Robin Newell, DuPont Pioneer senior business manager for forages and National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance chair.

“Whenever you get toward the end of the year, you always have a variety or two that gets on the short side,” Newell says.

“We have a fair-to-good supply of all our varieties, especially our hybrid alfalfa,” reports Dairyland Seed’s forage product manager, Tim Clark. He encourages growers to order seed early.

Robison calls alfalfa supplies “tight. People will find that their favorite varieties may be sold out already or soon will sell out.”

“We’re going into the fall planting period with a much lower-than-average carryover position,” adds Cal West Seeds General Manager Paul Frey.

Alfalfa seed inventories are planned a year or more ahead of time and involve “a lot of estimation,” he says. “We are purposefully planning to produce a specific percentage above what the market needs so that, if there is strong demand, the seed is there. Or, if we have a lower-than-expected yield for new (seed) crop, we’ve got a little reserve to draw from to meet the normal demand. You try to hit a sweet spot, and then Mother Nature throws you a curveball.”

The cool-season grass supply is “adequate,” Legacy Seeds’ Robison says. But he warns that meadow fescue and meadow bromegrass seed are in “extremely short supplies” because of seed-crop production failures.

Orchardgrass and tall fescue seed supplies will also be “somewhat tight until new crop is harvested” this fall, he says.

Italian ryegrass, which Robison saw increased use of as a cover crop or drilled into thinning or damaged alfalfa this spring, is in good supply. Annual ryegrass will be in “very good supply” as its late-August harvest approaches, he points out.

“There has been a lot of use of annual ryegrass, either for drought recovery or in cover cropping” this year, says Peter Ballerstedt, forage product manager for Barenbrug USA. “Last year some people sold out, so this year people are buying earlier.”

To complicate matters, some annual ryegrass seed sent to areas where growers were anticipating a break in the drought, or to areas where they were unable to get into fields, is sitting unplanted, he says.

Ballerstedt advises growers to check annual ryegrass seed availability soon, as well as that of other cool-season grasses they’re considering. “If you want improved varieties, and if you want them in any quantity, you need to be making arrangements to obtain them.”

That, Byron Seeds’ Hale says, also holds true for small grains used as forages.

“Small grains, it appears, are going to be shorter than they were last fall, so growers need to order soon if they want to get their favorite varieties,” he advises.