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Seed update for summer and fall of 2021

Chad Hale for Progressive Forage Published on 09 July 2021
Summers and fall seeds

As I write this article in early spring, talk of drought is becoming more prevalent in many parts of the country. Drought years can be tough on forage operations in many ways.

There is the immediate forage shortage caused by the lack of moisture, but prolonged drought with increased grazing pressure on any available forage can damage stands long term.

Drought years can cause localized spikes in seed demand, as happened in 2019 with sorghum-sudan demand across the Midwest. It is too early to tell if there will be any unusual spikes in seed usage, but the other side of drought is: It can impact seed production. With both of these aspects in mind, a seed industry update might be helpful. I’ll try to go through the major categories of seed I’m familiar with to give you some information that will help you with your planting plans in the next 12 months.


By the time you read this, the 2021 corn planting season will be behind us. Looking forward to 2022, supplies will likely be adequate, but you only need to glance at the commodity section of the newspaper to guess where the price is headed. The amount of the price increase can’t be determined yet. The actual prices closer to harvest time will have an impact on seed corn price.

Forage sorghum and sorghum-sudan hybrids

The supply of all the various sorghum hybrids is better than it has been in the past few years, but seed is not overly abundant. Some early cold weather hit the Texas Panhandle at harvest time and reduced the harvest somewhat. Currently, the likelihood of drought in the Great Plains is growing, and that could decrease the amount of sorghum planted in that area. A drought in the eastern part of the country could have the opposite effect. If drought strikes the mid-Atlantic or Midwest, farmers there may plant some sorghum rather than re-plant corn in June.

Some particular types to watch are any of the varieties of sorghum or sorghum-sudans that have tolerance to the sugarcane aphid. Usage of aphid-tolerant varieties is really increasing, because it works. If you need aphid tolerance, place your order early. Another popular item in the last few years is photoperiod-sensitive sorghum-sudan. These plants delay maturity until quite late in the fall, giving the grower a long harvest window to harvest very high-quality feed. In some instances, farmers might be switching to photoperiod-sensitive varieties faster than the seed industry can keep up with. So if photoperiod sorghum-sudans are a part of your plan, be prepared to order early.

Small grains

Fall-planted small grains for 2021 planting will be in decent supply if we have good growing weather. Many of the seed production acres are contracted well in advance, so there is little danger of losing those crops to the commodity market even if the price runs on commodities. However, increasing wheat prices will put upward pressure on the price of all the small grains.

That upward pressure will be moderated in some cases on proprietary varieties because pricing is sometimes locked in as part of the production contract. This may be one of those years where the price difference between variety not stated (VNS) seed is not that different from the very best genetics out there. While the acres of production are adequate, dry conditions in key growing regions like the Dakotas, Canada and Kansas could negatively impact the crop. Many of those areas had a dry fall, so fall-planted crops like cereal rye, winter triticale and winter barley might be suffering. Spring grains will fare better if spring moisture is adequate. Many of those same growing areas have had a bit of early spring moisture, so that is encouraging.

Cool-season grasses

Many readers know that much of the cool-season grass supply comes from the Willamette Valley of Oregon. That area is experiencing a very dry spring, which is highly unusual for them. The longer the dry spell continues, the more negatively it will impact the availability of cool-season grasses, including all the types of ryegrass, tall fescue and orchardgrass. If you aren’t familiar with the Willamette Valley, it has high-value farmland with crops like hazelnuts chipping away at the acres available for grass seed production.

The recent craze over hemp has chipped away at those acres even further, so there is consistent upward pressure on grass seed prices. The wheat price isn’t often a direct driver of grass seed prices because it isn’t a high-value crop, but at current prices well over $7 a bushel, wheat is a viable alternative for grass seed growers and therefore will add upward pressure on prices. Availability of the major species and varieties will be highly variable, so talk to your seed supplier about your seed needs.


Alfalfa price is holding steady currently. The industry has had some carryover seed that has kept prices from going up over the past few years. That trend will hopefully carry us through the remainder of 2021 at current pricing levels but, by spring of 2022, alfalfa seed prices will begin to increase. Seed availability looks adequate at this point.

Other legumes

There is increasing interest in traditional legumes like red and white clover as well as some of the annual clovers. While these legumes are grown literally all around the world, many of the varieties best suited to U.S. growing conditions are grown in the Willamette Valley, so the same issues facing grass seed would apply here. White clover supply is especially tight. Red clover is available, but the price is rising. Supplies of some of the annual legumes are low right now, but new crop seed will be available by sometime in the fall, hopefully in time for seeding for many of you.

I’m not as familiar with the other warm-season grasses and the natives, so I don’t want to mislead anyone by speaking beyond what I know. If you need some guidance on those, talk with your local forage extension agent or seed dealer. But even without specific knowledge, grain prices are driving everything up, and I’m reasonably sure these crops are no different in that regard. To sum up the entire forage seed supply in one sentence: Seed will be available but more expensive.

While not central to this article, I should mention the prospects for hay in the winter of 2021. As you have gathered in this article so far, high grain prices are driving many on-farm decisions right now. Across the Corn Belt, any marginal acres of alfalfa are being taken out and put into corn. Several of the key hay-producing areas in the West are facing severe droughts, and they already are being told that irrigation water will run out by midseason. It is quite possible hay prices will run this fall. Any known hay needs should probably be covered as soon as possible.  end mark

PHOTO: While seed shortages are not necessarily predicted, supplies may be tight and prices will rise as market pressures increase. Photos provided by Green Cover Seed.

Chad Hale
  • Chad Hale

  • Research and Acquisitions Manager
  • Western Forage Resource
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