Murray Wingate: In the wake of the summer's record-setting heat and drought, supply/demand for seed and seed prices are a hot topic now as superintendents prepare their 2011 budgets.
Leaders in the grass seed industry will gather this week and again in early November for two of their industry’s most important events. At both the Atlantic Seed Association conference in Philadelphia and later at the Western Seed Association meeting in Kansas City, attendees will be reminded that we live in an interconnected world where a hiccup in one part of the globe is acknowledged in another and felt in the pocketbooks at golf courses and landscape companies throughout the U.S.
To understand the current state of the grass seed market, you must first recognize that the grasses that cover our golf courses, lawns, sports fields and parks grow on some of the same acres where wheat, corn and barley are also cultivated. That puts them in direct competition with the grains that end up in the food we eat, that cattle graze on and the biofuels being produced to counter fossil fuel prices.
With that in mind, let’s go back a couple of years to a time when grain prices were on the rise and seed companies were forced to increase payments to growers if they wanted their crops planted. Soon after the economy slipped into the ditch, new housing construction slowed to a crawl and weather conditions improved, meaning little or no turf was lost. It was a perfect storm that lowered demand for perennial ryegrass, tall fescue and bluegrass seed dramatically. Courses and homeowners that normally would have overseeded decided they didn’t need to, even if they could have afforded to.
Fast forward to today. Seed production acres are at their lowest levels in years. Corn and wheat prices continue to rise. Farmers are increasing production of grains they can sell for a profit.
Couple that with all our recent summer of discontent when heat and drought parched golf courses and lawns across the country. The record-setting conditions left turf so ravaged in many areas that not overseeding wasn’t an option this fall. Courses, sports field managers and homeowners were forced to buy and plant seed, whether they wanted to or not.
What does all this mean for the price you’ll have to pay for grass seed next year?
With current prices at or near historic lows, we see increased demand for agricultural grains and continued demand for overseeding in the spring. And if the demand we’ve seen so far this fall continues, we could see a turnaround in market prices. But, like the weather, the seed market is tricky to predict.
If there’s a lesson in this scenario, especially as the budgeting season hits, it’s that manufacturers and distributors need to work with their customers to help plan their spring and fall seed purchases. Waiting until they need seed to put in the ground, as many did this year, may not be a sound strategy for 2011.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Murray Wingate is Turfgrass Sales and Marketing Manager for LebanonTurf, a division of Lebanon Seaboard. LebanonTurf distributes top rated NTEP turfgrass seeds, which are available as mixes, blends or in straight varieties.