Seed sales slow, despite supply, short-season crops included

Fall of 2016 was put away wet. And the winter didn’t dry the crop out too much, especially in eastern Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Many producers in Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan failed to get all their crops in the bin before harvest closed for the season, and that might be why some haven’t been rushing to buy their seed early this year.

Oscar Johnson, a seed grower from eastern Saskatchewan, near Margo, confirms that sales in his region have been slow, especially for a year in which a lot of farm-saved seed has been compromised by disease.

“We haven’t seen the usual rush of sales in March. We’ve sold out of one variety of oats, but other than that, it’s pretty quiet considering the kind of year it is,” said the owner of Northland Seeds.

Bob Mastin markets a variety of seed across Western Canada and says sales are “not making a lot of sense considering how much farm-saved seed is in tough shape.”

“It might be that some folks are still combining. Might be folks are busy getting some testing done. But usually in years like this, when good seed is short, I am shipping a dozen B-trains to Saskatchewan by this time of year. Not one this season yet,” he said.

“We are selling seed, but not at the rate I would have thought.”

In central Alberta, Harold King’s wheat seed sales have been “very good” and he’s sold out of some varieties. “Only barley is in the dumps. Price is too low for feed to get guys putting it in,” said the Three Hills, Alta., seed grower.

Test laboratory operator Bruce Carriere said his Saskatoon business has been brisk, but the test results he has been delivering about farmers’ saved seed has not been good.

He said he expects durum acres to decline because of lack of seed.

“We were estimating back in January, 20 to 25 percent, but we think it could be even higher than that. Thirty-five percent is one number I’ve heard routinely, 40 percent I’ve heard a few times,” said Carriere.

The average durum germ of the seeds submitted to Discovery Seed Labs have been 71 to 72 percent, while average vigour has tested at about 60 or 61 percent.

“Disease levels are extremely high on it. There is no way that you’re going to get rid of that this year,” Carrier said.

In previous years when there has been a bad durum crop, many growers had leftover durum seed they could use.

Mastin said usually with tight supplies and potentially earlier seeding in the western region and later due to wet soils in the east, farmers will move to early-maturing crops to take advantage of shorter growing seasons.

“I have Early One, the Polish canola and ACSC29 that is short season too. And with the non-GM there are more crushers offering premiums, but not much moving so far,” he said.

“I have a very early field pea, AAC Peace River. For folks that are thinking of getting seeding in mid-April with that or a Polish canola they could be done harvest and go to winter wheat or fall rye pretty easily or spread the work around. And the Go Early hard red spring isn’t selling yet either,” he said.

“We might see a big rush to buy, but they need to start pretty soon, it’s almost planting time,” said the Sundre, Alta., seed grower.

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