We asked some seed companies to report on the latest trends in the sports grass market, crop predictions, and recent company news. Specifically we also asked: Any significant sales trends over the past 2 years specific to sports grass? Has the continued severe weather affected availability of any popular grasses? Should buyers expect stable prices, or higher/lower depending on variety?
Micah Gould, Product Manager, Professional Divisions
The greatest trend we’ve been observing in the sports turf world has been the commitment to improved genetics by field managers. Specifically within Kentucky bluegrass products like HGT and Turf Blue Pro, we are seeing more and more customers invest in their seed. These products not only make the life of a field manager easier, but they’re seeing actual return on investment through saving on other management practice costs.
What really is amazing to me isn’t the fact that this is occurring in the sports turf world, but it’s happening across all budget types. I’ve visited grounds where the budgets hit each end of the spectrum, but the satisfaction and eagerness to continue with our featured brands remains constant.
Overall, markets should be stable with regards to supply and price for perennial ryegrass and tall fescue. It is appearing that Kentucky bluegrasses may be in short supply. Slight price increases might be seen for bluegrasses. As always, we’re seeing high demand in many popular products. With such high demand it doesn’t hurt to check in with your distributor well before expected shipment and usage. On our side of the operation, seed purchased by an end user is planned and accounted for 3 or more years prior.
We are proud to announce a new program: Green Earth. We love this earth and want to ensure that future generations are able to enjoy the outdoors as we have. As part of our commitment to sustainability, we breed and develop new varieties that are rigorously tested to the strictest standards. All of these standards are centered on this mission: to not only refine varieties that make this world beautiful but to craft them to be good for our planet. Keep an eye out for our Green Earth seal as it emphasizes products specially designed to maximize performance in categories such as reduced water, low mowing, salt tolerance, and low inputs.
Austin Lanzarone, Brand Manager
The concept of ‘Bluemuda’ is a recent trend that has seen significant growth in the sports turf market over the last two years. The concept of growing the two species together to give an aesthetically pleasing and safe playing surface for all types of facilities has been a successful practice for most sports field managers in the transition zone.
Recent weather patterns are continuing to have a tremendous impact on crop yields in the Willamette Valley. A few years ago Mother Nature gifted the Pacific Northwest with severe drought for a large majority of production areas; this drought bled into the next growing season with significant yield losses across all non-irrigated species. These yield decreases generated extremely tight inventories and created market pricing uncertainties on a global scale. As moisture returned to the Willamette Valley, crop (currently being harvested) assessments looked solid, until a few widespread rare and untimely rain/wind events came thru delaying the crop and potentially decreasing yields up to 30% in some areas on annual ryegrass and tall fescue. As we continue through harvest this season we will gain more market insight and knowledge on how yields will unfold, however we remain cautiously optimistic that we will still see relatively strong yields.
Genetic quality of a variety should always be top priority for a sports turf manager as they are the building blocks of a sustainable and successful program. Highly rated varieties tested thru NTEP (National Turfgrass Evaluation Program) and other programs that showcase varieties tested under extreme pressures and conditions like A-LIST (Alliance for Low Input Sustainable Turf) should be the first choice.
Aaron Kuenzi, Executive VP/Division Manager
Mountain View Seeds
Why do we see higher and more stable seed prices? There are several micro factors but in general, there are a few macro factors that are influencing our seed industry. In my opinion, these macro-influencers are legislative changes, Oregon Grass Seed Bargaining Association (OGSBA), and higher valued alternative crops.
In 2011, the Oregon government passed what we call the “slow pay, no pay” law. This requires that seed companies pay for their contracted seed by May of the following year unless an alternative can be mutually worked out between the company and the seed grower. Before this law took effect, seed companies could overproduce their annual needs, as there was not a lot of financial liability. The seed grower was forced to carry the inventory, so it did not affect the seed companies’ balance sheet. Today seed companies are more financially responsible for their production and inventory. We probably all know the struggle between accountants and salespeople when it comes to inventory. I believe this is one reason our industry has less inventory and at times can run out of seed.
The OGSBA is made up of Oregon seed growers and negotiates prices paid to seed growers by seed companies. There are many opinions regarding this process, but I believe it has helped bring stability to the seed prices and some transparency around inventory levels.
Lastly, the Pacific Northwest continues to see an increase in higher value and more profitable alternative crops being produced in the region. As an example, according to the Oregon Blueberry Commission in 2018, there were 14,500 acres of blueberry production compared to 6,100 acres in 2018. Hemp and hazelnut acres have also exploded in recent years; an estimated 7,800 acres of hemp in 2018 to more than 46,000 acres in 2019. Today there are more than 70,000 acres of hazelnuts in Oregon with roughly 8,000 new acres being planted every year. These acres may not seem significant until we consider there are only an estimated 342,000 acres of grass seed production in Oregon. As these alternative crop acres grow, they will continue to displace grass seed acres.
These factors combined with a below-average crop in 2018 followed by good demand have left the industry with low seed inventory levels of most cool-season turfgrasses. Thankfully as a farmer’s owned co-op (Pratum Co-operative, near Salem) we have great relationships with our farmer-owners that allows us better access to seed production acres.
The mild winter in Oregon did create more opportunity for our winter weeds to flourish so we believe our seed quality will be more challenged this year than in the past. Our mild winter followed by a dry spring resulted in just an average seed harvest for 2019.
Our production acres remain relatively low for tall fescue, bluegrass and fine fescues going into the 2019 harvest season. As inventories remain tight, and production acres are limited, we expect market prices to remain relatively firm.
At MVS we strive to consistently deliver a high-quality seed product. This means looking at new production regions around the globe, working with our breeding company and leading universities to develop the best new varieties. Varieties that don’t only perform the best on your sports fields but also produce the most seed in our growers’ fields.
The sports field market is exciting right now. There seems to be a revival in natural grass surfaces and wiliness to try new things. This combination makes for new trends and trendsetters in our industry. Trends we see are the increased use of Kentucky bluegrass and a desire to be more sustainable.
Through our genetic breeding and development programs, we have been able to improve the performance of Kentucky bluegrass. MVS has specifically focused on establishment, disease and wear tolerance to allow us to take bluegrasses into more regions and applications. A great example is our 365ss brand of bluegrass. One of the applications that it was designed for and is generating a lot of “buzz” is the Bluemuda concept, used at places like the Rose Bowl, where traditionally they used bermuda and perennial ryegrass. This concept is where turf managers interseed Kentucky bluegrass into an established bermuda turf. These two species have been found to work very well together in a large part of the transition zone. Brian Winka of Advanced Turf Solutions and Dr. Gregg Munshaw from the University of Kentucky have pioneered this concept in the USA and continue to do a lot of research around it. The general benefit of Bluemuda is more year-round playability. As natural grass competes with artificial, we are looking for ways to have 365 days of playability.
As our seed genetics continue to get better, the market continues to demand more, which I view as a great thing for seed companies, especially those with breeding and development new varieties of grass seed.
To address the rapidly growing demand for more sustainable varieties (varieties that use less water and inputs), Mountain View Seeds joined the Alliance for Low Input Sustainable Turf (A-LIST) as a founding member. The A-LIST is a non-profit industry initiative that works to identify, through independent university trials, varieties that maintain their turf-quality under reduced irrigation, fertility and chemical use. Additionally, the A-LIST promotes the use of sustainable varieties across the country and works to influence turf breeding to focus on these traits as much as color and seed yield. Through their efforts, the A-LIST has promoted these varieties to municipalities and transportation departments around the country. These entities realize that through better variety selection not only can they realize better environmental benefits through reduced irrigation, fertilizer and chemical use, but those same benefits also result in cost reductions. While these industry segments were often the dumping ground of VNS and off-quality seed lots, they now demand high-quality varieties that although they cost a few cents higher offer significant cost savings long term. The work of the A-LIST has garnered attention from industry associations including the TPI, GCSAA and the STMA; so much so that a presentation on sustainable varieties and the economic importance of smart variety selection will be presented by Dr. Cale Bigelow of Purdue and Dr. Gregg Munshaw of University of Kentucky at this year’s STMA Conference and Exposition in West Palm Beach, FL.
Dan Foor, Chief Executive Officer
La Crosse Seed
The use of modern, high tillering and rhizomatous tall fescue cultivars is expanding in select sports turf markets. Superior drought and high wear tolerance, along with improved cultivars, allows turf-type tall fescue to be used on many fields with limited resources. Many mixes in La Crosse Seed’s Earth Carpet platform contain varieties with early expression of strong, aggressively spreading rhizomes and rapid tillering, and are specifically formulated for sports turf applications.
Tetraploid turf-type perennial ryegrass like those in the DLF (La Crosse Seed’s parent company) 4Turf program, with lower set crowns, provide excellent wear tolerance in sports fields. These seeds germinate at lower soil temperatures and shorter day lengths, giving field managers greater flexibility in planting times.
Reduced acres in the Willamette valley of Oregon and a spring drought in the seed production areas of Canada will affect the seed supply of turf-type perennial ryegrass, a popular grass for winter overseeding of bermudagrass. The industry continues to be challenged to produce and process very high quality seed lots of Kentucky bluegrass as well. Pressures on chemical tools and labor are limiting the ability to remove contaminates in seed production fields, which further impacts supply.
Pricing in general will see some increases in the 2019-2020 selling cycles. Perennial ryegrass seeds of high quality will be limited. The higher performing Kentucky bluegrass cultivars are in short supply as well. There will be supply of lower-end Kentucky bluegrass cultivars, but sports turf managers should take extra care to evaluate seed quality.
From a DLF perspective, the breeding group continues to improve upon the popular 4Turf® cultivars for sports fields. These grasses will be used for construction and repair of sports fields in the permanent sports turf field market. Having seed on most fields for the last two World Cups, DLF has significant experience with these grasses.
From a La Crosse Seed perspective, the company is currently celebrating its 100-year anniversary as a national supplier of turf seed and other products.
Chad Adcock, VP of Business Development
Sod Production Services
Sales of Tahoma are outstanding. We need significantly more inventory than we currently have especially in the Midwest. Farms struggled to expand much given the horribly wet and flood conditions experienced this year. In the East we’ve sold out completely on some farms and are about to be selling 8-week-old grow back material. Several NFL stadiums throughout the Midwest and East are experimenting and liking the results thus far. Duke and Indiana University have installed Tahoma on soccer fields; James Madison and Maryland-Baltimore County have installed it as well on soccer and baseball fields respectively. The new MLS team in Austin, TX is interested for their new 2021 stadium. Also significant interest has been expressed from football clubs in California. This is only the tip of the iceberg as we are about to blow the lid off of Australia and Japan in 2020.