Seed Economics Toolkit - Organic Seed Alliance
Organic seed production is a developing industry and viable economic opportunity for organic growers. To help growers manage the uncertainties and risks inherent to seed production, and to help growers earn more profit, OSA developed the following tools to assist seed enterprises. The toolkit below offers support in the form of budgeting spreadsheets, inventory management, foundation and stock seed planning, instructional webinars, and more. These are the first tools to be created specifically for organic seed production. We’d love to hear your feedback.
Seed production planning tools
Tracking seed enterprise expenses and budget (.xlsm file)
This enterprise budget spreadsheet helps growers track the costs associated with producing seed crops. Enterprise budgets provide a snapshot of costs associated with a crop for a single year and do not make predictions or forecasts for future years. However, they can be used to provide guidance for growers who are considering investments in new equipment and scaling up. Each value in the tool can be customized, though common default values are provided for some calculations. Watch a tutorial of how to use this seed enterprise tool.
Common questions around foundation, stock, and production seed include: How much foundation seed do I need to ensure I have enough stock seed? How much stock seed should I produce every third year for my production seed? This spreadsheet helps guide decisions around how much and how often to produce foundation, stock, and production seed based on your operation, desired inventory, longevity of the seed, and estimated yield.
Tracking labor in seed production (.xlsm file)
Tracking on-farm labor can be confusing and overwhelming, but it is also extremely important for growers trying to get a handle on their operation costs. The forms in this tool are designed as a guide. The first form is designed for tracking a different operation each day. The second form is designed for routine activities over the course of many days (such as watering in a greenhouse or screening a large seed lot). The third form is designed to track a number of different activities. Any of these (or all of these) may be useful for tracking labor in seed production.
Seed economics webinars
Seed production contracts
Seed production can be deeply rewarding work. But turning a passion for seeds into a viable livelihood is a challenge that even experienced seed growers struggle to overcome. Growing seed on contract for a seed company takes some of the sales-related risks out of seed production, but finding the opportunity to grow on contract can also be a hurdle as it is not always clear how to connect with a seed company to acquire contracts. Seed companies and growers alike report that they most often make new relationships by networking at conferences like the Organic Seed Growers Conference or other regional events, but that opportunity is not always feasible for many growers. Companies also report responding to “cold calls” when a farmer calls requesting a contract or by following recommendations from other seed growers. OSA strives to create networking opportunities that foster relationship building online and in person. To that end the Organic Seed Producers Directory was created as a registry of seed growers. It includes a user profile that shares growers’ location, scale, and crop expertise. This online tool can be searched by seed companies seeking growers and for producers to connect with each other.
Seed contracting 101
Success in seed production contracts requires careful management of the grower-buyer relationship and an understanding of the terms of the contract. Learning from other’s experience can save many headaches and ensure building a successful grower-buyer relationship. Over the years, experienced seed growers and buyers have shared their experiences and advice in workshops and webinars at the Organic Seed Growers Conference and other online networking events. Several of these webinars also offer contact information and guidance on how to reach out to seed companies when seeking contracts.
Seed contracting advice and prices
Prices for wholesale production vary widely by crop, variety, and scale and terms of the contract. The roles and expectations of the producer also influences the pricing in a production contract and understanding the expectations of the seed company is very important as it significantly influences risks and costs of production. While prices vary widely from company to company and depend on a multitude of factors it is also helpful to have some ballpark idea of average wholesale prices so to help in negotiating contracts and using the enterprise budgeting tool to project profit potential.
We surveyed 9 seed companies to solicit feedback on best practices for engaging in contract seed production and to inquire about average contract prices for specific crops to help growers develop production plans. Below is a summary of results of the survey including companies’ advice to growers and input on pricing. Contract prices often varied widely between companies and within a given crop by each company. Commonly mentioned determinants of prices included production scale; variety type (high or low yielding, ease of production); roles of producer such as need for rogueing or finished quality seed cleaning; seed quality such as germination rate and disease testing; and whether the crop is an open-pollinated or hybrid variety. Please note that not all companies provided input for all crops or to all questions.
Seed company advice on managing production contracts
- The best time to contact seed companies to inquire about contract opportunities is between September through January when companies are preparing for the following year’s production.
- Communication is critical to maintaining a good contract relationship. Most companies request an update on the crop status 2-3 times throughout the growing season. Photos of the crop and updates on any off types are very helpful.
- Timely delivery of clean seed is important as it helps the company prepare for the following year’s sales.
- If you are new to contract production start small and try crops that you are familiar with growing as a market grower. Try a test plot the first year if it is a new crop you are unfamiliar with so you can determine if you can grow it in your location and plan out how you will harvest and handle the crop.
- Keep good records on your costs of production, including your time, so that you are able to engage in informed negotiations on price.
- Share your production information with the company and ask them to share what they know about the crop. Seed companies want to learn from your experience and also help you succeed. It takes an open exchange of information to ensure everyone’s success. If you need help ask!
Contract seed production prices
The following table presents ranges and averages for wholesale contract prices for production of common vegetable organically certified seed crops. These prices are provided thanks to input from nine seed companies, including national and regional scale. All of these companies sell organically grown seed, but not all of them are exclusively organic. Price ranges are wide reflecting the differences in contract scales, crop variability, and roles of the company. Companies include those that contract nationally as well as some that focus on production within their given region. To the best of our knowledge these prices reflect production of open-pollinated varieties, not hybrids. These prices are intended as a guideline and to help producers in production planning and forecasting. They are not intended to serve as a basis for pricing of specific seed crops. Each production contract must be arranged through negotiations between the grower and buyer depending on their given situation. We thank these companies for their support of seed producer education and transparency in sharing production prices.
(price per pound)
(price per pound)
|Amaranth||$50 – $100||$75|
|Beans, Cowpeas||$3 – $15||$7|
|Beets||$20 – $75||$50|
|Brassicas, biennial||$20 – $250||$100|
|Brassicas, annual||$10 – $60||$35|
|Carrots||$75 – $160||$120|
|Collards||$35 – $160||$75|
|Corn||$6 – $25||$12|
|Cucumbers||$20 – $72||$50|
|Eggplant||$250 – $560||$350|
|Lettuce||$50 – $320||$100|
|Melon||$25 – $80||$50|
|Okra||$20 – $60||$40|
|Peas||$3 – $20||$6|
|Peppers||$200 – $800||$400|
|Radish||$35 – $40||$40|
|Spinach||$20 – $60||$30|
|Summer squash||$15 – $60||$40|
|Squashes||$20 – $80||$50|
|Tomatoes||$280 – $640||$400|
This project is funded in part by the Montana Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Education and Risk Management Education Partnership Program and North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research program.