Seed World

Dry Weather Makes for Guarded Seed Supply Forecast

Brent Derkatch

Extreme heat, drought on the Prairies means seed companies may have to rely on carryover stocks and move seed longer distances to ensure customers get their supply.

The drought experienced across the Prairies this summer should prompt farmers to take action now as they lock in their seed purchases for next year.

“I think the outlook for planting seed going into 2022 is probably guarded. We certainly don’t want to cry wolf, but we would advise farmers to plan accordingly and not fall into the trap of picking up the phone in March or April and trying to find seed for next year. That way, if there is a shortage, seed companies have time to figure out a solution,” says Monica Klaas, general manager of the Alberta Seed Processors and a Seeds Canada board member.

Klaas says the summer heat and lack of rain has hit some regions harder than others, but regardless of how the seed harvest goes, 2022 will likely not be business as usual in terms of the seed supply.

“I don’t think anyone would say we have a crisis on our hands, as many seed growers do carry inventory. That said, it would be wise to plan in advance, which many growers already do. The sooner you can get your seed, the better. With grain yields being lower in many areas I don’t think on-farm storage will be an issue. Last year we saw such good yields that storing seed wasn’t an option for many growers, but this year things have changed in that department.”

For Jake Ayre, seed grower and vice-president of the Keystone Agricultural Producers based in Manitoba, 2021 was a “night-and-day” year compared to 2020, when many regions experienced too much moisture. The lack of rain this summer affected seed growers in different ways depending on where they are located, he says.

The extreme heat and lack of rain also brought with it an invasion of grasshoppers, but he adds that the dry weather meant low disease pressure for many seed growers.

“I guess you have to take the good with the bad,” he says. “We did risk assessments on a few fields of wheat seed and we ended up not spraying fungicide just because we felt the disease pressure just wasn’t there. I heard the same from quite a few seed growers across Manitoba and the Prairies.”

Doug Miller, CSGA executive director. PHOTO: Ema Suvajac Photography

Seed, Grain not Created Equal

In some ways, seed yield may have an advantage over grain yields as the 2022 season approaches. Brent Derkatch, director of the Canterra Seeds pedigreed seed business unit, says that canola seed is grown using irrigation, whereas canola grown as grain is not.

“When it comes to other crops, like cereals and pulses, in a typical production year seed growers and companies maybe wouldn’t pay quite as much attention to their carryover stocks. That will definitely not be the case as we move into 2022 — we will need to rely in some areas on carryover to provide enough supply for farmer customers this coming season,” Derkatch says.

“I think people in my position are going to be having more detailed conversations with seed growers this fall, just to prepare ourselves collectively to know what’s out there in terms of seed stocks.”

Derkatch suspects that, geographically speaking, there may be seed shortages in some regions, and seed companies will have to work with retailers to ensure growers get access to what they need.

Todd Hyra agrees. SeCan’s western business manager has already heard from some customers who have locked up some early supply of seed that was carried over from last year.

“Seed growers generally grow more than they can sell in one year, so there’s always this surge capacity that’s out there to fill some of that void. Sure, in some areas the seed may be hit hard, but we have over 450 seed grower members in Western Canada. That’s a diverse network across a broad geography, and seed will move from region to region. We have a resilient system in Canada that protects growers.”

Helping seed growers right now is crucial for the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA), says Executive Director Doug Miller. The 2021 seed crop conditions have raised concerns about seed stock availability for 2022.

“We’re encouraging growers to apply for inspection where feasible. We’ve heard that there are growers who didn’t apply for inspection on fields that may be eligible because of the weather or questions around the quality and viability of the seed crop,” Miller says.

To help increase certification options and stabilize seed stocks for 2022, CSGA has suspended all late application penalties and cancellation penalties for Section 2 cereal crop applications received after July 12. Having seed crops inspected this year will provide greater flexibility in 2022 and beyond.

Within a week of this announcement, CSGA received almost 100 new applications.

“There is zero risk to these producers if they get the crop to inspection,” says Miller.

Brent Derkatch

Planning for the Future

With heat records being broken in many areas of the West this summer, it’s wise for seed companies to take extreme weather events into consideration as a formal part of their business plans, Derkatch says.

“You need to be paying a lot closer attention to your production planning. It’s not just about the certified seed supply that you know meet the year-by-year needs of the market — it’s also the stock seed, the higher generation seed, that needs to be considered. If you have disruptions to supply in those early generations, when you’re just getting breeder seed of a new variety in the ground, for example, that could have pretty significant impacts on your planned variety release dates and when you can actually get that product out there,” he adds.

“We’ve certainly been focusing a lot of our energy in the last few years on faster production cycles, especially as we work collaboratively with Limagrain Cereals Research Canada, to try and bring new varieties to farmers faster. Whether it’s drought, or more extreme storm activity, multiple generations of seed production is definitely something that we’re all paying very close attention to these days.”