Lacey Jarrell/Capital Press
Lower production and higher demand have boosted the 2013 prices for perennial and tall turf-type fescue grass seed to near-record levels, industry insiders say.
“These are the highest prices we’ve seen since 2007,” Oregon Seed League Treasurer Drew Bell said of fescue. He began working as operations manager at Coleman Seed and Hay in Gervais, Ore., in that year.
Mark Simmons, executive director of the Oregon Grass Seed Bargaining Association, said Missouri produced an oversupply of Kentucky 31 tall fescue, but the K-31 market price is “holding its own.”
He added an oversupply of perennial ryegrass from Europe has found its way to the East Coast and is selling for about $1 per pound.
“It has put a ceiling on Oregon perennial grasses,” said Simmons, although he believes the stagnated perennial prices will be “short-lived.”
“I think things are setting up to have continued strong prices into 2014,” Simmons said.
Oregon Seed Association President Bryan Muntz said perennial ryegrass had a 40-million-pound carryover this year, which has helped move seed from harvest into the market quickly. It’s a much lower number than the 100 million he estimates the industry experienced at the height of the recession.
“There wasn’t a lot of carryover this year, so everybody needs everything,” he said. “Warehouses are cleaning seed around the clock.”
In 2012, 377,420 acres of fescue and annual and perennial ryegrass valued $337.7 million were harvested in Oregon, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service figures released in July.
The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service 2013 forecast released in February, estimated that crop acreage planted will vary less than five percent per variety. Still, yields were less than previous years.
“Because of the dry weather last fall and dry May weather, the crops did not get the harvest we normally get,” Simmons said.
Growers are also opting to scale back grass seed production in favor of other crops, said Simmons.
“It’s not that demand has cut back,” Simmons said. “It’s that production has been cut back dramatically.”
Matt Herb, research director of Oregro Seeds and past president of the Oregon Seed Growers Association, said the 2008 economic downturn and an overstock of grass seed led Oregon growers to seek new revenue-generating crops. Many turned to wheat — as many as 200,000 new acres were planted — and other crops, according to Herb.
“We’ll never go back to the heyday of grass seed,” Herb said. “It’s a good thing when you have diversity among species and markets.”
One hurdle facing grass seed growers is a lack of information to base crop projections on, Simmons said.
“We desperately need better information. In 2008 and 2009, we were over production for a number of years before being hit by the dramatic recession, and it caused a great deal of damage to the seed industry,” Simmons said.