The market for organic forage seed is currently undersupplied and offers large and growing demand over the next few years.
It’s such a good business, said Laura Telford, a MAFRI organic specialist, that even people who hate organic can’t resist its allure.
In preparation for her presentation on marketing opportunities at the Portage Food Development Centre, she called a number of seed sellers on both sides of the border. One in Saskatchewan lectured her on the “evils” of organic production, and how alfalfa couldn’t be grown without copious use of chemicals.
When he finished his rant, she asked if he had any organic forage seed for sale.
“He said, ‘Yeah, there’s a huge market opportunity,’” said Telford, to much laughter from workshop participants.
A key driver for the organic forage seed market comes from organic, pasture-based dairies in the U.S., a niche that has staged a strong rebound due to consumer concern about hormones used to boost milk production in that country.
Growing organic forage seed in the U.S. has fallen out of favour as more acres are seeded to corn, she was told.
Legumes are sourced from Canada, but grass seed mainly comes from Europe at five to six times the price of conventional seed.
“They said the organic seed seems fairly unlimited right now. They always run out of seed before they run out of market,” said Telford.
Paul Gregory of Interlake Forage Seeds buys seed from growers and sells wholesale to retailers in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
Organic legume and grass seed generally pays double conventional, he said.
Organic alfalfa currently fetches $2.35 per pound for common seed, and higher for resistant traits. Double-cut red clover brings $2/lb., alsike clover $1.40-$1.50/lb. for common #1, and black medic pays $1.25, he said.
For grasses, timothy is worth $1.10-$1.50, tall fescue $1.25, meadow fescue $1.40 and orchard grass $1.50.
Buyers of seed should be cautious about germination rates and grade, said Gregory. Cheap seed may not be cheap in the end if it brings along a new weed species.
“You don’t have a sprayer in your backyard. You just have the grey matter between your ears,” he said.