Drought across much of the Midwest has battered this fall’s harvest of native grass seeds, creating some shortages and higher prices for many varieties commonly used in Conservation Reserve Program acres or for roadside reseeding projects, growers said.
The extent of the seed shortages for the native grasses depends on the severity of the drought itself. Growers in Oklahoma, Texas and southern Kansas were harder hit than those producers in more northerly parts of Kansas.
Native grass seeds are typically harvested in September and October. They are then dried, cleaned and processed in November and December for spring planting.
“Certain varieties will be in short supply, but the overall basic species of grass should be available,” said Dennis Lutgen, one of the owners of Star Seed, Inc., an Osborne, Kan.-based supplier that has 2,700 acres of native grass production contracted with growers in north-central Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.
Lutgen expected native grass seed prices to be anywhere from 20 to 40 percent higher due to fewer pounds harvested per acre because of limited rainfall and competition for seed production acres from competing farm crops.
At Sharp Bros. Seed Supply in Healy, Kan., salesman Mark Jensen said this year’s native grass harvest is down 30 to 40 percent from normal. Some native grasses such as buffalograss are already in short supply. Prices have increased somewhat, but he said the market is not yet settled at this point and they could be up quite a bit before the main planting time comes in the spring.
He acknowledged many producers opted to bale their grass as hay rather than harvest for seed because of record high hay prices.
“When talking native grass, that can be true one out of every three years,” Jensen said. “It is not like this is some apocalyptic thing we haven’t seen before.”
Prices at the Feyh Farm Seed. Co. have already gone up 25 percent in the past couple of months, and owner Richard Feyh said he may have to raise them more if he has to go out in the market and buy seed to replace some of the grasses he grows. He said production of most varieties of grasses were significantly lower.
His harvest of some native grasses like the big bluestem, indiangrass, blue grama were half of normal.
“At this point some things will run out and get substituted with something else, if it is available,” Feyh said. “Nobody knows for sure what the demand will be exactly.”
In extreme drought areas like Oklahoma and Texas, growers were even more concerned about native grass seed supplies.