Thomas G. Chastain

Growing a grass seed crop is all about making the best possible solar energy harvesting system at the lowest cost.   However, the direct and indirect costs of energy in the forms of fuel and fertilizer can make achieving this goal a challenge for grass seed producers.

Figure 1. Price of perennial ryegrass seed and price of oil indexed in 1976 cents and dollars, respectively. (click to enlarge)

Perennial ryegrass seed prices have risen from 26 cents per pound in 1976 to a high of nearly 80 cents per pound, and have declined by about 30 cents per pound off the high in recent years.  Unlike the nominal price for perennial ryegrass seed which has risen over time, seed prices have fallen when indexed for inflation in 1976 dollars (Figure 1).  Oil prices have outstripped seed prices in times of recession and economic instability.  The gap between oil prices and seed prices has grown recently and is a threat to profitability of grass seed production enterprises.

Figure 2. Perennial ryegrass seed price and urea price indexed in 1976 cents and dollars, respectively. (click to enlarge)

Measured against fertilizer price (urea price), perennial ryegrass seed prices have done somewhat better (Figure 2).  Nevertheless, like oil prices, fertilizer prices are highest in weak economic conditions and price gap is greatest in these periods.

Figure 3. Trends in perennial ryegrass seed yield in the Willamette Valley. (click to enlarge)

The key factor in sustaining the industry despite rising energy costs and lack of upward movement in real seed price was the near doubling in seed yields over the last 35 years (Figure 3).  Improvements in agronomic management and technology have played a large role in the gain in perennial ryegrass seed yields.

Can we do it again?



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