Alfalfa seed inventory low; U.S. demand up

BROOKS, Alta. — A reduction in Canadian acres sown to alfalfa seed is a concern for the future but a boon in the present.

Terry Ewacha, executive vice-president for Pickseed’s wholesale and western operations, told Alberta alfalfa seed growers Nov. 27 that tight supplies are keeping prices on firm ground.

“I think the outlook currently is very good,” Ewacha said during an alfalfa seed commission meeting.

“We’re into a state right now where our inventory levels are very low, probably one of the lowest I’ve seen.”

Alberta grew 23,000 acres of alfalfa seed this year, but acreage in Saskat-chewan and Manitoba has dropped drastically in recent years as farmers gravitate to higher-priced commodities.

The United States has also reduced its alfalfa seed acres, which is part of the reason for healthy demand for Canadian product.

“Canada’s really at a loss for alfalfa seed production at this point and I don’t see us really making up that ground, other than possibly Alberta, where there’s a lot of people have interest in this industry,” Ewacha said.

The U.S. is by far the major market for Canadian seed, and demand is likely to be especially healthy this year as American farmers replant their drought-ravaged acres.

Commission president Karl Slomp said he anticipates prices in the range of $1.80 to $2.20 per pound this year, depending on the variety.

“The prices have been stable,” he said. “Last year, the price went up a fair bit to compete with other crops and we’re kind of expecting the same prices this year.”

Overseas, Australia has been a major producer of non-dormant alfalfa seed, which isn’t produced in Canada. However, Ewacha said drought in Australia has depleted supply and production.

Eastern European countries that used to buy seed are now growing it, but it is generally of poorer quality. Europe also has fewer alfalfa seed acres because they’ve been replaced with higher-priced crops. As for the domestic alfalfa seed market, eastern Canadian dairies are the major buyers but demand is stable.

“We’re basically in a level right now where sales have plateaued and to get into the next level, there will have to be some technology introduced to go up against corn silage, which is our big competitor,” Ewacha said.

He said 25 percent of the seed bought in the U.S. last year was Roundup Ready, which is not produced in Canada.

Other new technologies under development include drought tolerant varieties, low tannin types with greater bloat resistance and low lignin varieties.

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