PRICES have hit a four-year high but yields have been variable after a mild summer for lucerne seed growers.
Lucerne Australia chair Joshua Rasheed said the recent, cooler summer was "not ideal", with stable, hotter temperatures preferred for flowering set. The end result of that has been a particularly variable harvest.
"Normally a grower with five paddocks will have the results come back pretty consistent, but growers I've spoken to might have had a paddock at 800 kilograms a hectare, one at 600kg/ha and one at 200kg/ha," he said.
"There have been some very good yields but some poor yields so I'd expect overall for it to come in close to average or just below."
Mr Rasheed said another factor lowering the overall yield was a reduction in the area taken through for seed production.
He estimated between 30 per cent and 35pc of lucerne crops that would normally be used for seed were instead grazed, bringing the overall total harvested well back on the long-term average.
"With the livestock job doing so well, people have chosen to stay on the grazing path for sheep and cattle," he said.
Mr Rasheed estimated harvest was about 60-70pc of the way through, with most growers expected to finish in the next two weeks.
He said there had been a bit of a backlog in cleaning and testing, but he was expecting the seeds available to be good quality.
"The quality is normally strong as these growers are very good at growing lucerne seed," he said.
This smaller harvest comes off the back of a reduced stockpile of lucerne seed.
"Coming into the season, we had barely any carryover of seed," he said.
With such strong demand, and a reduced area, we expect we might finish the season with no carryover again.
This, combined with strong demand, has meant an increase in prices across the past three or four months, with Mr Rasheed estimating prices have lifted about 20pc in that time to "probably the best we've had for the past four years".
He said strong interest from traditional Middle East markets was pushing prices up, but there was also considerable demand domestically, particularly along the east coast, as it recovered from drought.
He said last year, a number of NSW graziers had sown annuals but this year would be looking to improve their pastures with perennials, especially with high livestock prices making it worthwhile.
"With such strong demand, and a reduced area, we expect we might finish the season with no carryover again," he said.
Lucerne seed grower Simon Allen, Keith, described this year's growing season as a "challenging" one, with the milder summer creating issues with seed setting.
Simon, who manages farming operation Warrawee Park with partner Maddie Willoughby and parents Mike and Janet Allen, said yields had varied across their property, but he expected the season overall to be slightly down on their long-term average.
This year the Allens increased their area sown to lucerne, with harvest wrapping up this week.
Simon said there had been some concerns in the lead up to harvest, with some forecasts suggesting the heavy rains on the east coast might also come to their region, but this did not eventuate.
"Harvest has been reasonably smooth and quick," he said.
But the threat of wet weather did encourage a change in harvesting methods.
While normally they would windrow their crops, this year they elected to do chemical dessication in a number of paddocks to minimise the risk of rain on windrowed crops.
One benefit the cooler, wetter winter had was in reducing the amount of irrigation required.
Simon said on some country they only needed to water the crop twice, instead of the usual three times.
The vast majority of Warrawee Park's seed crop is sent to Saudi Arabia, with some also sold domestically.
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