Is There A Shortage of Vegetable Seed This Spring?

From Clemson Plant Pathologist Dr. Tony Keinath.

Last week I listened to a panel assembled by The National Garden Bureau discuss this topic. Panelists included employees from Johnny’s, Seminis (Bayer), Harris, Syngenta, Jung, and Botanical Interests seed companies. The short answer to the seed shortage question was yes, 3 to 7% of cultivars—especially cultivars new for this season—may be out of stock. A website often doesn’t show how soon seed will be restocked. Restocking may take only a week if seed still available in a warehouse, or buyers may have to wait 3 to 9 months until the next seed crop is harvested.

The reasons for the seed shortage were mainly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including labor shortages of dock workers to unload shipments of seed produced in Asia and workers at seed processing facilities in rural areas. Another reason is the 3-year timeframe seed producers use when they decide how many acres of a given cultivar to plant. Increased demands for vegetable and flower seeds of 100% and 70%, respectively, mean existing seed stocks are being used up faster than expected in 2020-2021.

Several panelists suggested buyers substitute similar cultivars for out-of-stock cultivars. For growers in the South purchasing seed for vegetable crops, it’s important to find a cultivar with a similar harvest date. In the spring, heat-sensitive crops like beans and radishes need to mature quickly for optimum yields and quality. In the fall, earliness may be important for cold-sensitive cucumbers and squash. Be sure to substitute another early maturing cultivar if the desired early cultivar is not available.

Finally, a tip I heard: carrot seed is likely to be in short supply in 2022, because carrot is a biennial that flowers in the second year of growth (if not eaten before then!).