Seek next year’s seed sooner than later

With harvest just underway the outlook isn’t clear, but cereal and pulse seed stocks are expected to be down

The growing season was dry from the start this year, setting the stage for a seed challenge next spring.

Manitoba farmers should talk to seed sellers about supplies for the 2022 growing season early.

With harvest just underway it’s too soon to get a handle on cereal and pulse seed stocks, but production is expected to be reduced due to drought and excessive heat.

But that’s not the only factor at play. High crop prices could also reduce seed supplies several ways.

Why it matters: There will be enough seed to plant all the acres farmers want to next spring, seed industry officials say, but some varieties could be in short supply.

Seed growers typically carry over seed for several years, but the run-up in crop prices the last six months or so has seen some seed sold as grain.

“We dumped some older (seed) stock we had been sitting on because the price at the pit was an incentive,” Jack Ayre of Southern Seed Limited at Minto, Man., said in an interview Aug. 4.

Seed growers are thinking hard about how to best manage their businesses.

“They know they need to supply their customers, but there are near-record prices for them just to take the commodity and go to the (elevator) pit,” Todd Hyra, SeCan’s business manager for Western Canada said in an interview. “If guys want to lock up seed, now is the time to do it.

“You can never go wrong with having a conversation with the local seed supplier and getting that dialogue going. They are preparing to sell seed, but they also need to manage their operations. They don’t want to be carrying any extra inventory with these high (commodity) prices either.”

Because some varieties might be hard to get, farmers should have a couple of alternative varieties in mind, Brent Derkatch, Canterra Seeds’ director of its pedigreed seed business unit, said in an interview.

“I also think that the sooner farmers can provide their seed requirements to their seed suppliers, the better chance they have of potentially sourcing seed from other areas that do have better production,” he said.

But when seed retailers do that, they’ll want assurances the farmer will buy the seed.

While some cereal crops struggled others were in decent shape at harvest. Now the question is how much seed will be available come spring. photo: Sandi Knight

“I’ve heard from seed growers that they are taking orders now but they’re not committing to a price until maybe October, as an example, just so they have a better idea of their own inventory and they have a chance to do germination and purification tests on those seed lots and see what they’ve got before they can accurately reflect the price,” Derkatch said. “We’ve already been working internally at Canterra to provide some sort of suggested retail price guidance and it would be months earlier than we would typically do that.”

Some farmers might experience “sticker shock” when seed shopping for 2022, Hyra said. Whatever commodity prices are, seed prices are higher.

“Commodity prices have taken an incredible run in the last week,” he said Aug. 24. “When talking to our (SeCan) members I am encouraging them to have a very open discussion with their customers about the commodity price versus the seed component of that price. In the case of CWRS (Canada Western Red Spring wheat) it’s over $10 (a bushel), some places $11 and occasionally $12. That is the certified (seed) selling price just six months ago. So customers need to calibrate themselves and know if the seed grower is asking for $17 or $18 (a bushel) that’s really driven by the commodity price and the seed piece of that is more likely $4 or $5 and the commodity is the bulk of it.”

In addition to growing seed, seed growers must pay royalties, inspection fees and cleaning and storage costs, Derkatch said.

“That base commodity value fluctuating at local levels will have a big impact on what the ultimate seed-selling price will be,” he said.

It’s possible there will be less farm-saved seed planted next spring as some farmers struggle to find every bushel to fulfil delivery contracts on priced grain, adding to the demand for certified seed, Derkatch said.

One way to make seed go further is planting for the desired plant population, using seed size instead of sowing so many bushels per acre, he said.

Seed companies are communicating with their growers to see who has what and where, Derkatch said.

“In years when there are real or perceived seed shortages it doesn’t automatically mean that brown-bagged sales are OK,” he said. “Seed companies, growers and distributors have a lot of ways of helping farmers source pedigreed seed. We need to make sure the farm community respects intellectual property. I think it’s important for farmers to know where their seed is coming from, that they know if they are buying seed by variety name that it’s pedigreed seed — that it’s certified seed with the blue tag. It’s critical that we continue to make sure that those rules and regulations are followed.”

In most cases with cereals and pulses, farmers can save seed to plant. The exceptions are where farmers have signed agreements not to.

Moreover, while farmers can usually plant saved seed, under plant breeders’ rights rules they can’t sell most modern varieties to another farmer for planting. Doing so is referred to as ‘brown bagging,’ and it sometimes prompts seed companies to sue those engaging in it.

In a July letter to its members, the Manitoba Seed Growers’ Association (MSGA) said it was working with sister associations in Saskatchewan and Alberta and the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association, to mitigate the drought’s effect on seed supplies.

“It’s looking better than we thought going into July,” MSGA’s executive director Jennifer Seward said in an interview Aug. 24.

“There will be seed, but you may not get the variety you want,” she said. “If you want a specific variety you better get your name in now.”

Manitoba farmers have already harvested a fair bit of wheat, including for seed, and yields have been a pleasant surprise, especially CWRS varieties, Hyra said.

“At least from an eastern Prairies perspective it has handled the drought pretty well compared to some other crops. Barley, oats (I’m) still pretty nervous about those.”

“I think it’s proving time and again that years in stressful environment conditions that the genetics offered in the newer varieties offered today have more resiliency to deal with environment stresses,” Derkatch said.

Hyra said he has heard of Manitoba CWRS wheat yielding from 20 to 70 bushels an acre, with a lot in the 40- to 60-bushel range.

“For the most part in my area everyone is generally happy with yields on the pedigreed side just because we weren’t sure what to expect,” Ayre said. “We’re sitting under five inches of rain for the season. No one knew what would be there so (we’re) pleasantly surprised. There’s regional variability (and) even on a field-to-field basis.”

Barley, the first crop Ayre harvested, also yielded better than expected.

“If you want me to get more technical I can say it was above a crop insurance position,” he added.

Manitoba peas suffered due to drought and heat resulting in lower yields, Hyra said.

“Yields are down but quality should be good,” he said. “I think there should be a reasonable supply. It depends where (pea) acres go. There’s probably enough to get by but if there’s big growth in acres who knows where things will go.”

The quality of the wheat seed harvested before recent rains is good too, Hyra said.

“At least in Manitoba with the cereals a chunk of it is off,” he said. “There’s still more to come. My fear has shifted a little bit in the last while. First it was quantity and now it’s quality and what will happen to the remaining crop especially in western Manitoba and in Saskatchewan and Alberta where the crop is just really starting to come off.”

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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