Is There Really a Seed Shortage?

By Katy Kassian
Katy Kassian
Katy Kassian
June 29, 2021 Updated: July 27, 2021

Do you garden? Enjoy going to local markets or shopping stores that carry locally raised products? Have you noticed a decline in available fruits, vegetables and some varieties of florals in the markets- especially the farmers markets?

The lack of readily available seed is very real. It has stopped many avid home gardeners in their tracks, and slowed production on small homesteads and farm market producers. But is there an actual shortage? I do not know. I have an opinion, but you will have to form your own. There are backups. And people have options. They could try a different variety. Instead of Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans a person could try Blue Lake Bush. Get the idea?

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Without available seeds, farmers, at every level cant grow food, let alone those home enthusiasts who have small gardens. (Joshua Lanzarini/Unsplash)

How the Pandemic Affected Seeds and the Seed Industry

2020 saw a lot of panic buying from first time gardeners and a substantial number of veteran gardeners. The former because they were worried how to feed their families, the later because they were worried the former would buy them all. By fall of 2020, many of the seed houses were simply sold-out. This trend continued over the winter leading up to the spring of 2021 still not having enough packaged seeds to go around. Many of the seed houses were still scrambling to fill the prior falls orders, and simply stopped taking new orders. Which made people panic buy even more.

When something we want is constantly out of stock, we have a tendency to stock up against the future. It doesn’t seem to matter if that something is Oreos, seeds or toilet paper.

The last time there was run on seed of this magnitude was right before Y2K. Do you remember that? They hype surrounding that left many feeling as if they would be facing the world alone. Seeds flew off the shelves. Particularly the heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. Literally, nary a seed to be found anywhere. Folks were calling up seed companies and saying “I’ll take one of every heirloom you have!” And this was in the era before the Internet, Amazon, and other online shopping venues.

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Organic Seeds of Change packets are more readily available, and the market for organic seeds is also growing year over year. (Wiki-commons)

This time, there was a huge surge in demand, delays in packaging due to people shortage attributed to Covid-19, then add in some bad weather that ruined some seed crops, all this added up to an inability to keep up. Many seed houses have ‘spare’ seed on hand, but not that much. Seeds come from somewhere. They are raised by farmers contracted specifically to grow seeds. When a particular region gets hit with drought or hail, it can wipe out those crops, delaying them another growing season. When producers can’t get enough employees in a timely fashion, this too creates delays. Now factor in shipping and packaging, remember the empty roads and businesses all due to Covid-19.

There are a lot of things behind the scenes that can cause a shortage. And once you’re behind, it takes time to catch back up. But they are working as quickly as they can to get back to 100% capacity.

There are more and more commercially packaged garden seeds for seedless varieties of melons, cucumbers and other seedless plants. Some serious gardeners and seed savers say this can and well may, lead to a decline in quality heirloom and open pollinated seeds to be saved. They call it “lazy gardening.” For example, let’s say a backyard gardener or small producer did not want a seedless watermelon, but had a short growing season. What are they to do? The non-traditional way is to use the seedless melon anyway vs the adaptive way of starting your seeded melon indoors several weeks early, thus extending the growing season and producing a melon you can save seeds from.

“Seed availability will be on the decline with not just the ease and availability of ‘lazy method’ farming and more hybrid seeds, but also because the education and knowledge of how to garden the ‘hard way’ is simply vanishing.” According to Shay Brislane – owner of Stag Valley Homestead.

I personally know many small producers, master gardeners and terrific backyard gardeners that rely solely on places like Peaceful Valley Seeds or Seed Savers Exchange for their heirloom or OP seeds. I understand the point she is making. Even among my own set, there are only a few that regularly save and exchange seeds as needed.

“We need more gardeners who are willing to teach and harness the spark in the backyard gardeners to do it traditionally and internalize their their own seed supply” says Brislane “ This will reduce overall dependency on the retail industry for annual seeds and keeps them from being limited to only what is being offered to them.”

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Farmers markets are becoming the norm in many urban areas to buy fresh locally grown fruits and veggies, and also a place where growers can buy and sell seeds to other farmers, and those interested in growing their own fruits and veggies. (Micheal Barera)

Is There Really a Seed Shortage?

What do you think? Right now, most of the major seed companies are currently restocked. While there are some seeds that are not in stock, overall you can order what you want and be assured it will arrive quickly. Partly, I believe this is because nearly everywhere in the continental United States, farmers, both big and small, professional and hobby gardeners have already planted (or started seeds) and demand is low. Come the end of the season when folks see how their harvests went, more than likely seeds will once again be flying off the shelves. I believe that the recent rise in people starting their own gardens, is not going to diminish and will add to the seed industry needing more seeds moving forward. This will lead to a shortage in seeds for the foreseeable future at all levels of need.

The pandemic changed the way a lot of people think about the food supply and where exactly their meal is coming from. This would be a good time to network with other gardeners/homesteaders/small acreage holders and start swapping or saving. How about trying a few new varieties of something? Maybe you will love purple potatoes and just don’t know it yet.

Happy gardening!

Katy Kassian
Katy Kassian