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The majority of mid-valley grass seed is now destined for the consumer market, a night and day shift from pre-recession times, Sam Cable of Barenbrug USA told more than 200 farmers Wednesday at the 52nd annual Oregon Ryegrass Growers Association meeting.

The meeting was held at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center.

Before the recession hit at the end of 2007, 54 percent of grass seed went to sod producers, landscapers and the like and only 46 percent was purchased by homeowners and other consumers.

Today, 54 percent is purchased by consumers and 46 percent by producers.

The key difference, Cable said, is that consumers tend to purchase seed that has been coated to enhance water retention or encased in mulch to make planting easier.

But coating seed can lead to reduced sales for farmers because a pound of seed becomes two pounds after coating due to the inert materials added.

“Consumers want the iPhone, not the old-fashioned wall phone,” Cable said. “They want the glitz.”

Cable said ryegrass production is a relatively high return business compared to retail stores that might make only 3 percent off a product.

“But, they turn those products numerous times a year,” Cable said. “Growers tend to sell a couple times per year.”

Cable said several factors influence local grass seed production.

He said high wheat prices continue to pressure the number of acres of ryegrass and tall fescue planted.

Slug pressure continues to increase and the fact that field burning is allowed only in a small area in Oregon is affecting crop quality.

The number of seed coating facilities is growing and that could affect crop prices.

Cable said there could be a bounce in seed sales due to a need to replant lawns along the east coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

There has also been an uptick in housing starts.

But, the golf industry segment of the market is stagnant since Tiger Woods has slumped. Television viewing is down, leading to decreased course maintenance and overseeding.

“For many homeowners, grass seed is an impulse purchase,” Cable said.

Cable said the grass seed market should be strong for the next few years, but warned that some growers are holding onto stockpiles waiting for prices to bump higher.

“That can be dangerous,” Cable said. “Lots of things can happen that can affect those prices. They have to weigh old fundamentals with the new market realities.”

Other topics of the conference included: lime and nutrient amendments; the changing culture of labor in agriculture; preventing glyphosate resistance in ryegrass seed production; Clean Water Act and navigable waters; and soil biology.

According to the Oregon Ryegrass Commission, in 2012 there were 459,976,583 pounds of perennial and annual grass seed sold in Oregon compared to 181,289,000 pounds in

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Alex Paul is the Linn County reporter for the Democrat-Herald. He can be contacted at 541-812-6114 or alex.paul@lee.net.

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