(Photo of Torres Blancas GC by Jamie Verwys, Green Valley News)
A perfect storm of adverse and unexpected conditions has reduced supply from the key seed-growing regions of Oregon and southern Washington, leading to a doubling of the cost in 2021 for golf course overseeding for several clubs in Arizona’s Tucson/Green Valley region. “Our seed providers said 50 or so golf courses in Arizona won’t have grass seed,” added Mike Cochran, General Manager of the Canoa Ranch and Torres Blancas golf clubs. Clubs throughout the U.S. can expect to see supply shortages and cost increases in the seed market for the foreseeable future, industry observers say.
A perfect storm of conditions has made grass seed the latest commodity that’s hard to come by throughout the U.S., the Green Valley (Ariz.) News reported. A combination of weather conditions in seed-producing states, grass-seed farmers switching to new crops, labor shortages, trucking issues and increased use of outdoor recreation areas during the pandemic has limited the supply of seed, and in some cases doubled the price.
Mike Cochran, General Manager of the Canoa Ranch and Torres Blancas golf clubs in Green Valley, told the Newsthat while the budget for overseeding at both courses in 2020 was $65,000, 2021’s bill will reach upwards of $140,000.
“It is a tremendously impacting issue as far as budget,” Cochran said. “In one year it increased that significantly, and there were multiple issues associated with this.”
Cochran’s seed suppliers said shifts in the industry and poor weather have been major contributors to the shortage, The News reported.
“Most seed is grown and harvested in Oregon or southern Washington, but during the past year multiple companies have said, ‘I’ve had enough with the seed business and can make better money with my land growing another product,’” Cochran said. “Those companies have decided not to produce, and there are also companies who’ve said, ‘I want to get larger,’ so some companies merged and some companies want out of this totally.”
Oregon growers produce the majority of the country’s annual and perennial grasses that golf courses use, The News reported. And while that state’s weather patterns are typically predictable, it started facing more extreme weather in 2020, with wildfires in the summer followed by an ice storm in February and then extreme drought and heat.
“With all that combined, we don’t know what the future is going to be,” Cochran said. “One thing our seed providers said is that 50 or so golf courses in Arizona won’t have grass seed.”
Where typically a three-seed blend for the Canoa Ranch and Torres Blancas courses is used, there was no guarantee any seed would be available this year, Cochran said.
“This year we had the opportunity very early on to make a decision to try and go for a blend, but they might not have had a blend available,” he told The News. “We opted for a single variety this year. We were fortunate and our overseeding came out perfectly, and we are set up good for winter.”
The San Ignacio Golf Club, also in Green Valley, has also seen a large increase in seed costs, The News reported. From 2019 to 2020, according to Director of Golf Ronnie Black, the cost rose 25%, and it has now doubled from 2020 levels.
While San Ignacio received enough seed this year, Black added, the cost was “exorbitant” and will lead to price increases.
Cochran indicated that the Canoa Ranch and Torres Blancas clubs will also likely increase rates for members and the public to cover the higher costs of grass seed, as well as food-and-beverage prices, The News reported.
And courses across Arizona that can’t get seeds will likely see a hit to earnings, he added. “It’s market-driven and customers want to see green grass,” Cochran said. “I would guarantee they will lose revenue if they don’t paint [the course] or go without any kind of appearance change.”
Kai Umeda, the Area Extension Agent of Turfgrass Science at the University of Arizona’s Maricopa County Cooperative Extension. conducts turf-grass research and works with golf superintendents and professional sports facilities. He told The News that it’s been a “really bad-news situation” for winter grass seed used for overseeding.
“I’ve heard of golf courses not being able to get seed at all and so they are going to be in a world of hurt with respect to not having overseeded courses,” Umeda said. “A lot of private clubs and resorts will do OK and get their seed, but the price has gone up to almost $2 a pound, compared to $1 or less three or four years ago.”
What’s happening with grass seed today began a few years ago and is an accumulation of different situations, Umeda told The News. Seed producers in Oregon started reducing their grass seed acreage and switching to more profitable crops a few years ago, and then, the bad weather further reduced the seed yield and the pandemic added additional complications.
“All of these things came together this year where the pandemic messed with the harvest and they couldn’t get people to harvest,” Umeda said. “There weren’t people to clean the seeds once harvested [and] there was a lack of workers, so everything got behind. So what little seed was available, they couldn’t process it, and it’s been a hard time shipping with no trucks available and no truck drivers to haul.”
The alternatives to overseeding are painting the turf or letting the winter Bermuda grass naturally grow and not be in competition with ryegrass overseeding, Umeda said.
There might actually be a “blessing in disguise,” he added, in how water usage will be reduced.
“The amount of water they use to germinate grass and get it going again in summer and late spring to transition back to Bermuda grass—it’s a lot of water being used in those periods,” he told The News. “With a shortage of ryegrass and less planting in an area, it could help in alleviating some of the water-shortage concern.”
Umeda said he’s hearing the grass-seed market will be tough for another year or two, The News reported.
“It depends on what Mother Nature does during the growing season and what growers do,” he said. “We’re hoping they will increase grass-seed acreage again too, but it’s unknown what they will decide.”