Opinions, Seeds

Cheap forage seed not always cheap

Winter season fodder crop sowing is at peak. I’ve constantly found it interesting the reasons why farmers buy the seeds they sow.  Neighbor associations, focal brand reliability, price & minimum field trial show results are all primary criteria for why farmers plant the forage varieties that they do. Oftentimes, it’s only one of these things that are the primary driver.

Though many crop input costs have moderated or come down in recent years but seed has not been one of them. These days, the price difference between premium seed and the “cheap” stuff has never been wider. Breeders have also developed conventionally bred traits that enhance agronomic (quick growth, better retention, late maturing, drought/ salinity resistance) or livestock performance (high digestibility, leaf to stem ratio, fiber content & softness). Examples of the latter might be Rye Grass & Sorghum Sudan Grass and Rhodes Grass. Using the extra Rupees for premium seed or not, does result in a higher up-front cost. For this reason alone, many farmers make their final decision based solely on seed cost.

But should they?

Even cheap seed generally grows forage, but that sort of misses the point. Premium seed and qualities come at a higher cost because of (hopefully) verified plant performance. But let’s back up a little and look at the “real” cost of seed in a crop enterprise, exactly a perennial forage. Rhodes Grass seed remain in field for 3 years and seed price is Rs 12000 for 1st year. Green crop cost per kg is not more than Rs 1.50/ kg in first year and Rs 1.00 in remaining years having 10 MT Green fodder per cut per acre.

We’ll use Alfalfa as another example, which falls between an annual and a long-term perennial. Let’s assume we keep an Alfalfa stand for two years after the seeding year and harvest 80 MT Green fodder or 16 MT of dry matter per acre over the course of the three years. If we sow 10 Kg in Rs 11 K of seed (including coating & rhizobium) per acre, every 1 Kg per Rs 1100, we pay for seed accounts for about Rs 1700 of our per ton production costs. The point is simply that seed costs, when spread over the life of a stand, are a very minimal component of production costs compared to other expenses involved. Superior quality seed brings with it improved performance in field. To pay for Rs1100 per Kg of higher seed cost, we only need to capture an additional 0.12 ton per acre over the life of the stand, assuming a conservative Rs 1700 per ton of dry matter value. This amount of yield boost is often captured in one cutting.

If we talk about a seasonal crop, Hybrid Sorghum Sudan Grass as a fodder. In local Pakistani market, more than 80% market share is occupied by local and Indian seed. Not known genetic material, susceptibility or resistance against fungus and regrowth in increasing temperatures show negative results in field. However, a Certified Imported seed shows all phenomena. Below study is based upon the data collected at different points at different times in 2017. Imported Seed means (USA imported) and Local seed means (Indian source seed).

In above details, Remaining conditions are ideal and by adding Rs 1200 in one acre in season save the double in costs.

Operations are the second most important thing to check the potential of genetics. In Alfalfa field, sowing through broadcast shows different results rather than drill sowing. If we drill Alfalfa crop at 6”, 12Kg seed require in one acre but if 7” R*R distance maintain, 9.15 Kg seed is enough. Superior plant genetics generally is the gift that keeps on giving.

Agronomic (yield) performance is another thing, but animal performance in the form of more milk or meat is where premium seed genetics becomes pretty easy to justify. Over and over again, we see studies of improvements in average daily gains of beef animals by 30 to 50 percent with Rye Grass. Superior Hybrid Sorghum Sudan Grass seed having better production with relative better retention, better regrowth, quick establishment and late maturing character shows a reasonable effect of 08 MT -10 MT in overall economics of that crop. To check these factors, we need to develop projects at academic level and create awareness among farmers.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you navigate through the current seed-buying season:

  1. Cheap seed may grow and cover a field, but it will often cost you rupees in lost production in coming cuts.
  2. Unlike perennials, annual forages through good yield must return seed costs in one year.
  3. Very small agronomic yield benefits easily pay for additional seed cost.
  4. Enhanced livestock performance that is generated from improved seed genetics (Resistance against diseases, fungus & drought) is generally an easy economic payback if other agronomic traits are close to equal.


Article by

Muhammad Salman Naeem

Head of Agri Division
Matra Asia Pvt Ltd