Coronavirus Is Worsening Seed Shortages For Farmers And Gardeners

May 22, 2020
Originally published on May 11, 2020 8:38 pm

Both farmers and home gardeners may have trouble finding enough seeds to plant this spring, but while both are facing seed shortages, the causes are unrelated. 

More people are taking up gardening as orders to slow the spread of coronavirus are keeping them homebound. Companies that sell vegetable and other seeds to gardeners are reporting record demand. Meanwhile, farmers are facing a supply shortage of soybean and sorghum seeds. 

Low supply of some seeds

Late season droughts two years in a row hurt soybean and sorghum crops and compromised the quality of seed available to growers, according to Josh Lofton, an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University who specializes in cropping systems.

Guaranteed germination rates for these crops are usually 80 to 85 percent, but last season Lofton saw germination rates as low as 70 percent. Lofton saidfarmers will have to buy and plant more seeds to see the same yields as previous years.

“From a soybean perspective, we’re talking about quality,” Lofton said. “From a grain sorghum perspective, we’re probably talking a lot about quantity being a little bit limited, and the same with forage sorghum.”

The coronavirus pandemic is further complicating the situation. The supply chain is strained and moving products across the country is taking longer than usual.

“How it is actually impacting the 2020 planting season is probably yet to be known,” Lofton said.  “However we do know that just slowing it down is something that it's drastically doing.”

Lofton urged farmers to be proactive during this time by ordering seed, and other products needed for planting, weeks in advance. He encouraged farmers to take advantage of extension offices, check weather forecasts and talk with product representatives.

“Growers should make sure to look at their label, talk to their dealers to see if they are working with lower quality seed or if the seed has progressed into really good quality seed,” Lofton said.

Lofton said if producers have been proactive about planning and booking seed, they most likely won’t see any impact from the coronavirus pandemic this year. 

“Going out and being able to source seed relatively easy, might be more time consuming than would typically be in a normal year,” Lofton said. “Some dealers might not have seed readily accessible to them, they might not have the quantity that they would typically have in a normal year, so you might have to wait on seed.”

High demand for vegetable seeds

Folks starting COVID-19 gardens may also run into challenges finding the seeds they want. 

Rick Thomas, a vegetable seed salesman at Eckroat Seed Company of Oklahoma City, said he’s never seen such a demand for seed in his more than 40 years in the business. 

“I have never sold as much (seed) as I have in the last two months,” Thomas said. 

Thomas said a lot of seeds aren’t available right now and won’t be until next season. 

“I try to find the closest substitute to what they’re asking for and so far I’ve been pretty fortunate in having everything that I’ve needed,” Thomas said. 

He explained simply no one was prepared for this; demand is exceeding supply. 

Thomas said Eckroat is completely out of some varieties of corn and beans and running low on some types of squash and lettuce. 

Thomas said he hasn’t seen anything like this since consumers stockpiled seeds fearing the Y2K bug would shut down computers worldwide. 

Chelsea Stanfield is an intern at KOSU.

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