Seed will be available for late planting, say marketers

But popular varieties will be in short supply, and germination and fusarium are going to be key issues

Nearly a million acres of unharvested crops to deal with means late seeding will be common this year. But will there be enough seed to meet the demand?

Yes, say marketing reps, but farmers need to act quickly and keep their expectations realistic.

“This spring, more than ever, timing is going to be of the essence,” said Mark Hagen, regional manager with BrettYoung. “From the growers I’ve met with and talked to, as soon as they finish doing what they will with the crop that’s out there they’re going to want to seed the next day. We’re trying to get supply of the earlier-maturity varieties on hand at our retailers and distribution facilities so if they’re late in their seeding they have enough Roundup Ready and Clearfield options.”

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Trent Whiting, Alberta marketing representative for SeCan, said there will likely be enough seed to go around for most crops. However, producers may not be able to access the most in-demand varieties.

“If you tried to find AAC Brandon hard red spring wheat right now there might only be two (SeCan) members in the whole province who will have it for retail just because it’s been the hot variety,” he said in an interview earlier this month. “But there’s AC Stettler and other older varieties around that can take its place — it’s not like the system’s dry.”

Seed challenges

If there’s one prevailing theme around this year’s growing season, it’s uncertainty.

“A lot of growers don’t know the right solution to deal with their crops that are in the field,” said Hagen. “Guys aren’t sure if they’re going to be baling it or cutting it for silage as cattle feed or if they’re going to be able to get in and harvest. I’ve heard rumours of potentially burning some crops just to get the fields cleaned up so they can get in and seed it at a decent time.”

Barley is a common late-spring, early-maturity option. Whiting warns farmers who clean their barley and oat seed that germination quality could be a problem this year.

“Farmers who typically clean their own barley for seed could get a rude awakening in terms of quality. I’m hearing the germs are starting to fall off on the 2016 barley so they might be scrambling to find seed barley.

“Even if harvest conditions in the fall were decent, our members are telling me in specific areas the germination on their barley was 95 per cent off the combine and now it’s 65 per cent. I think a lot of farmers are in that same boat. The co-op seed plants have been promoting getting your germinations done a couple of times — once early in the season and once now to see what you really have for the quality of the seed grain in your bins.”

Good-quality oats may also be in short supply.

“There wasn’t a lot of carry-over from 2015 and some of the 2016 crop is still in the field — like some barley. Getting a current germination on whatever you are planning to seed is critical going into spring seeding 2017.”

Fusarium a factor

There has also been a higher percentage of fusarium head blight (FHB) detected in seed throughout Alberta this spring. The province’s zero-tolerance fusarium regulation could mean tight seed supplies, particularly for durum, said Whiting.

“That’s probably the most limiting of anything,” he said. “Across the board there’s more fusarium, which in Alberta’s environment means it will potentially cause local issues where supplies might be limited.”

And because the other Prairie provinces are having their own problems with fusarium, he doubts there will be much seed available for import from Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“I definitely don’t see anything moving out of Saskatchewan our way this year to supplement us if we’re short in Alberta production,” he said. “We’re going to have to live with what we have.”

Still, Whiting is optimistic that there will be enough seed to meet most needs this year.

“There was carry-over from 2015 that should supplement our 2017 needs. I still think there’s more than enough seed to go around this year for most crops.”

Anticipating trends

So what are farmers likely to be planting this season, late or otherwise?

BrettYoung is rallying its supplies of glyphosate-resistant canola in anticipation of a big year for those products, said Hagen.

“We expect the Roundup Ready market share to be the largest portion of late-season sales just due to the fact that glyphosate is a great product for controlling the extra weeds and volunteers from last year’s crop that might still be out there,” he said.

Whiting said his members are seeing a lot of interest in hard red spring wheat and canola but there is not as much enthusiasm for barley.

“The market is telling everybody to grow spring wheat or canola again this year. There may be varieties of spring wheat that are short but overall there’s a decent supply of wheat.”

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