THE outstanding yields seen in the 2019 lucerne seed harvest will go a long way to making up for the big decline in area shut up for seed production this season across the South East .
But growers who had been hoping for better prices than 2018 will need these big crops to boost their bottomlines.
Early sales of public variety Siriver were made at $5 a kilogram - up about 20 per cent on last year.
But in the past month, grower confidence has taken a hit.
Two proprietary companies recently came out with an opening price of $4/kg - the same price they paid last year in a depressed market.
Industry figures show last year 5434 tonnes was exported - the lowest in seven years - but interest is believed to have improved out of Saudi Arabia.
A good seed harvest with good pricing will always trump most commodities.
Lucerne Australia chairman Josh Rasheed said high livestock and hay prices had driven the significant drop in certified production area, with dryland area in the SE down as much as 80pc and irrigated area back about 40pc.
He said it was difficult to gauge, but expected uncertified seed production area would also be well back.
"A good seed harvest with good pricing will always trump most commodities," he said.
"But each year you run a massive risk of not getting the seed yield as there are no guarantees and a lot of the time you don't know your prices.
"You can put in a seed crop and risk weather events or high seed wasp numbers and only yield about 200kg/ha and you still don't know your prices until after harvest.
"But lots of growers this year were 80pc sure where pricing was going to be in the next six months for hay and livestock."
But Mr Rasheed said it had been a win-win season with those who had taken certified seed crops through rewarded, with dryland harvest about 200-350kg/ha and some "very good" yields on irrigated areas.
Related reading:SE lucerne trial puts irrigation to test
He said prices were up on last year, although in 2018, the margins were slim for growers with many only just covering their production costs.
"We have seen some reasonable early sales on commons (varieties) with 15-20pc forward contracted at about 20pc better than last year, which was very positive," he said.
This is on the back of little carryover of public seed and the big area out of production.
Mr Rasheed expected prices for common varieties such as Siriver would remain strong.
"This year many farmers are in a unique position - they don't need to sell their seed because all their other enterprises are doing so well, so they will make sure there is still a margin in it for them," he said.
Mr Rasheed said there had also been good early sales of public varieties into Saudi Arabia and there was some positive inquiry coming out of Argentina.
Wrattonbully lucerne seed grower Nick Malone says it has been a "pretty good year", with good bee activity at flowering and dry weather for harvest.
Last week he harvested two 25ha pivots of Heritage Seeds' SARDI 10 Series II, estimating the crop went about 600-700kg/ha off the header.
It is not an easy crop and it comes with its risks, but for us it is an opportunity crop for grazing and hay.
"The seed wasp has not done the damage it has in the past either - the sample looked good," he said.
Mr Malone says lucerne seed is a good fit with the family's mixed farming business, also producing prime lambs along with wine on their Talinga property.
"It is not an easy crop and it comes with its risks, but for us it is an opportunity crop for grazing and hay," he said.
"We had the ewes in the next day (after harvest) from our sheep enterprise and being winter active, it produces an amazing amount of feed.
"We wouldn't want to see prices go any lower than where they are, but because we consistently grow lucerne, you get the years of ups and years of downs."
Growers reap rewards from consistent year
MANY Upper South East lucerne seed growers have enjoyed their highest-ever crop yields, according to Alpha Group Consulting managing director James De Barro.
"Some growers who had multiple irrigated seed crops harvested close to or more than 1000 kilograms a hectare off the header," he said.
"That is from Tintinara down to Naracoorte - dryland has been good, but irrigated lucerne has been outstanding.
"We would normally see six seeds to a pod but this year we had up to 14 seeds."
Lucerne seed crops like consistency in weather and not big ups and downs in conditions.
Mr De Barro said with the dry summer it had been a "straightforward year" for irrigation scheduling and while bee numbers seemed low in the crops, there must have been good pollination at flowering.
"Lucerne seed crops like consistency in weather and not big ups and downs in conditions, so it has been a perfect season, but growers have also made the most of it," he said.
Related reading:Mixed bag for lucerne yields
But based on Seed Services statistics, Mr De Barro said the certified stand area was likely to be back 30 per cent to 40pc, with the largest drops in irrigated area.
A few growers had decided to focus on hay production, but for many others Mr De Barro said their hand had been forced with marketers taking both younger and older stands out of seed production, on a scale he had not seen in his 30 years in the industry.
"Companies can extend the certified life of a stand almost indefinitely, provided it meets particular standards," he said.
"But 12 months ago, with a world oversupply of lucerne seed, companies cut the throat of many of these older paddocks."