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Seed Webinar: Making Your Seed Budget Go Further — Getting More Bang for Your Buck!

With seed prices seeing unprecedented rises, are you using the most cost-effective blends or mixtures? In part two of the seed webinar series, Rusty explains the best grass for the site and application to help you make better decisions that can positively impact your bottom line. He also discusses the use of coated seeds and when it is the correct choice for you and your customers.

About Our Host:
Rusty Stachlewitz is a Seed Product Manager at Advanced Turf Solutions. Rusty received his Bachelor of Science in Crop and Soil Science from Michigan State University with an emphasis in Turfgrass Management. He has been a Golf Course Superintendent and General Manager in the industry. He’s also been the turfgrass department head of two colleges and the Program Director of The Lawn Institute.

So, we will get moving along here. We’re going to talk about how to make your seed budget go a little further. There’s a description of who I am there. You’ve probably already read that. Go to the next slide here. So on your right-hand bar, there’s a little orange arrow. You click on that, these options will come open. You’re muted for the whole seminar. If you’ve got questions, there is a questions section down there as well. Just enter your question. If it’s an IT question, then Jessica’s on here with us. She will answer that right away for you and get you squared away. If it’s a question about my presentation, I’ll get to those at the end.

So first thing is why we talk about making our budget go further now. Well, if you were on the last presentation, you know: seed prices are at an all-time high. And I don’t know that any of us were ready for this. Seed inventories are low for distributors and for seed manufacturing companies or seed marketing companies, and our projected harvests are low. That’s one of the reasons why the seed prices are at all-time high. So that’s why it’s going to be important. I threw in some little facts from last one. If you were here last time, you’ll see the numbers are a little different. Pricing still isn’t complete. Harvest is still ongoing. We’re still trying to figure out, you know, total germination weights and how far we are off from total crop we expected.

But look at the bottom there. These are the anticipated costs over last fall. And I’ve got ranges to kind of buffer myself. But perennial ryegrass 50 to 60% increase. Tall fescue could be up to 75% or more, depending upon how some of these results come in on these fields. Kentucky bluegrass, depending on what it is, 20 to 45%. The high-end varieties aren’t going to go up as much in cost because they are grown under irrigation, and so they have a lot better yields. The stuff that was grown on what they call dryland or unirrigated, we’re seeing as big as a 50% decrease in yields. So we’re going to see increases in cost. And those will be more common types that people put in mixtures, and a lot of you probably use in your business. Fine fescue: 20 to 30% is kind of what we’re looking at right now.

So, what are your options? I’m going to assume most of you run some type of lawn care company. If you do, then you can charge more. You can use less seed. You can look at using different species. Or you can look at using coated seed technologies.

Charge more: it’s pretty obvious how this works. You charge more. You’re able to pay more for seed. You can get the same amount. Customers don’t typically like this. Some of you I know have contracts where you’ve got an aerification/overseed already penciled in at a price that you set back last spring, not knowing what was going to happen. So, you know, charging more is not always an option. But in these market times, you’re going to have to do something. If you haven’t billed out for those or haven’t given a quote for those, you’re going to want to figure out what your seed costs are so you can charge accordingly when you do those services.

But your next option that I outlined was to use less seed. This is one of the biggest problems I see already is a lot of companies use too much seed. They’re trying to CYA (cover their butt, let’s say). I should have put CYB, trying to be politically correct. So there’s some ranges for what you should put down for seed. Tall fescue: six to eight pounds. Some people go up to ten. I’m okay with that — I wouldn’t go above that. Perennial ryegrass: four to six pounds. Kentucky Bluegrass: one to three. Fine fescue: three to four. That’s all for new installs on bare dirt. That would be what I would recommend. Overseeding, we cut everything in half. You’ve already got turf established there. We don’t need to have those full rates. If you have those full rates, we can actually have some competition issues. And honestly, a lot of it’s not going to probably succeed anyways. We’re better off at lower rates. If you’ve got some voids on some lawns or areas that are rough, then go over them twice with that lower rate and have more of a new install rate. But that’s what I would look at.

So, you know, to give you a concept, perennial rye: two to three pounds for overseeding. Kentucky bluegrass: half a pound to a pound and a half. So if we’re looking at, you know, a 50/50 blue/rye, which is favored for people in the fall for overseeding, you’d be looking at, you know, putting out maybe one and a half to two pounds of that combined product, you know, maybe a little bit more. But that’s what we’re looking at. You could, you know, think about these different rates whether you’re using tall fescue with bluegrass, or ryegrass with bluegrass, or fine fescue in a shade blend. You can kind of tweak those based on what else is in that bag.

This is one that I don’t think a lot of people talk about. You can use different species. So a lot of us are set in our ways. We overseed with a certain mixture or blend, and that’s what we do. Oftentimes, it’s got a lot of perennial ryegrass. We’ve used that for years because it’s cheap. It also germinates quick, so the homeowner sees something and they’re happy because they pay you to come out and do a service. They’re starting to see grass germinate, super stoked. Even on a new seed, where you have bare ground, same thing — you’re putting ryegrass in there so that homeowner doesn’t get discouraged. Bluegrass can take fourteen to twenty-one days to germinate. That’s a long time for somebody to be out there watering something without seeing anything grow. And lots of times, you know, they get discouraged. You tell them to water that lawn two or three times a day, and nothing comes up. They kind of give up a little bit in a lot of cases. So we’ve thrown that ryegrass in for years to get that pop of green, and it was cheap. This year, it’s not cheap. So we need to rethink this as a whole for this year. If you replace with Kentucky bluegrass, you can actually save money this year.

And so I put some numbers at the bottom, and we don’t know where prices exactly are going to fall, so these are just rough. I like round numbers. But if you’re going to use perennial ryegrass and we’re talking about a new seeding, and it’s going to cost us $250 a pound, it’s going to cost you fifteen dollars for every thousand square feet. A Kentucky bluegrass at three bucks is going to cost you nine bucks per thousand square feet. A high-end or higher-end bluegrass at four dollars is still going to be cheaper than the perennial ryegrass. You’re going to be at twelve dollars per thousand square feet. I mean, that’s still a significant savings if you multiply that by all the locations, all the houses you’re doing, all the properties you’re covering. You can save some money on that. Now, not going to get the pop that you normally do. And maybe you look at a mixture that decreases the amount of ryegrass over previous years, so you still have some of that in there. But these are some numbers to kind of think about as you’re trying to make decisions for fall as to what you’re going to do for new seedings and overseeding areas.

The last option I had on there, and I should have mentioned this at the beginning, it’s going to be a quick little seminar. But to give you an idea of what’s going on, you can use coated seed. And we’ve been selling coated seed for about twelve years. A lot of our competition doesn’t sell coated seed or is just starting to sell coated seed out of necessity, because the seed crop is so light. We typically coat seed at what we call a 50% coat, which means that it’s a one-to-one seed-to-coating ratio in that bag. So a bag of seed, fifty pound bag is going to have twenty-five pounds of seed and twenty-five pounds of coating in it. So it makes our crop go twice as long. So that’s why you’re going to see coating from our competition now out in the market. It makes that crop go longer.

It also makes it more cost effective for you. So the more expensive the seed gets, the wider the difference in cost between uncoated and coated seed. And coated seed should always be cheaper. The coating, unless seed prices get really low, but in general should always be cheaper. The coating’s cheaper than expensive seed, and so that’s why that price discrepancy is there. But for an example, if you’ve got raw seed and it costs you two dollars per pound, if we coat that it’s likely going to cost you around a dollar fifty per pound when it’s coated. And so, you know, significant savings: 25% there. We go up a notch here and you do some high-end bluegrass at four bucks a pound, it’s likely to cost you two dollars and seventy-five cents a pound coated. And once again, significant, even more significant savings. As the price goes up, it gets even bigger. On the golf end, we coat a lot of creeping bentgrass. Some of those seeds can can cost as much as eighteen, nineteen dollars a pound, twenty dollars a pound. And coating them makes them cheaper.

Oh, and my slide didn’t show up. Always interesting. Let’s see if I can — oh, and the content’s not even there. This should be interesting. So let’s go back to our show here. So the good news is I know what’s on this slide. So that’s a picture of our coated seed. What’s supposed to be on this slide is the three things that make up that coated seed.

So in that coated seed, we’ve got a water-absorbent technology. We have a support package, some type of nutrient package in there, and other goodies. And we’ve also got a fungicide in there. And that helps with damping off of those seedlings. Just a little ad for what we sell, we don’t want this to be a huge commercial thing. But thinking about those three things that are on that coating, we’ve got, like I said, water-absorbent technology, fungicide, and our support package, some nutrients, in our case. There’s mycorrhizae in there as well. There’s some humic materials, there’s lots of things that make that seed more successful.

There’s benefits to that, environmental benefits. That water-absorbent technology holds up to (some of the new ones) up to a thousand times their weight in water. So it holds a lot of water. What that means is you don’t need to irrigate it as often. You’re going to see a result with less irrigation. On average, 30% less water can be used during establishment. Think about this in an overseeding scenario where you’re not irrigating at all. You’re throwing that seed out there and just hoping it gets enough irrigation if your customer does not have the ability to water. And with the coating on there, any irrigation you get, any rain you get is going to be sucked up by that coating, held against that seed, and going to make it germinate better.

So that’s the next thing down there. You get better germination, quicker establishment. It’s going to decrease soil loss in an open soil situation, but it’s also going to make your customer happier in an overseed situation. They’re going to see it come up quicker than uncoated seed. They’re going to see it come in thicker than uncoated seed.

Other benefits: greater soil-to-seed contact, which we all know is important. That coating actually gets a little sticky when it gets wet. And so that wet coating sticks to the soil. It doesn’t move if you do get a rain or an irrigation as much as raw seed would.

It also decreases the need for additional fungicide. Having that fungicide on the seed itself helps with fending off those funguses during germination. Also, when that coating breaks down, that fungicide gets in the soil, will also help you with some residual in the soil. If you’re going out early, if conditions are really bad, you’re still going to have to do something else. Like any other fungicide, the duration it lasts is not super long. So if we’re still getting terrible weather, there might be something you need to do on an establishment basis. Overseeding — it’s just another benefit.

Other benefits: it’s more visible. You saw that green color on the previous slide. It is bright green. My manufacturers, actually, they use Seahawks green as the color. So if you’re a football fan, Seattle Seahawks, that bright green is what they’re targeting. So it’s more visible, which is great if you have people going out, making repairs, throwing some seed down in spots. They’re going to use less because they can see it. The other great thing is your customer can see it. So we used to put the ryegrass in so the customer can see things grow. The necessity of doing that is a lot less with the coated seed if it’s got a visible coating, because the customer can walk out on their lawn after you aerify and overseed and see that seed sitting there. They know you’ve done something and so they get a peace of mind about it.

That coating increases the density of that seed. It gets greater ballistics, it means you can throw it better. So if you’re going out with a rotary spreader and putting this seed out, it’s going to spread more evenly than uncoated seed. It’s going to spread a little further, and you can spread it more consistently with a little bit of wind than you can uncoated seed. It just makes it throw more consistently.

Also, that coating gets you mowing quicker. So you’ve got some voids in that yard you’re overseeding or you’re starting a new lawn. You get the first mow in quicker, that homeowner is then happier. Also get a better quality turf. Since there’s nutrients in that coating, that plant can survive off of them after it germinates. And so you get more vigor in that plant. You get a healthier plant that is growing.

Wouldn’t be a presentation without some data slides. I’m going to go through a few of these real quick. So Hydro-lock is one of the technologies we use as a water-absorbent technology. This was done in a greenhouse situation, perfect conditions, with tall fescue. So what you’re seeing is after three days, we had over 80% germination with just having the water-absorbent technology on there. This isn’t including anything else. This is just the water-absorbent technology. So 80% after three days, over 90% after six days, and the raw is just barely over 40 at that point. Almost catch up at 12 days. And so, once again, laboratory conditions, everything’s perfect. We expect stuff to germinate well. We didn’t really expect this much more rapid germination. And so what this gets you basically, in my eyes, is it buys you six to nine days earlier visible grass for your customer, six to nine days of earlier satisfaction for that customer, potentially less callbacks because something’s growing, potentially less days to irrigate because this grass is establishing quicker.

So here’s another slide. This is using technology from Barenbrug, which we also use, and this is coated versus uncoated at two different moisture contents. And it’s a little bit sciency. I’ll explain it real quick. Left-hand side is 70% replacement of water that evaporates, right-hand side’s 80% (doesn’t matter). The important thing is that at reduced moisture, which this is 70% on that left, we’re seeing double the germination over uncoated. Same thing at 80%. We’re seeing double the germination. And so that’s really important, because you remember back I said, half that bag is coating, half that bag is seed. Well, we’re going to go out at exactly the same rate that you would with uncoated seed. I’ll go back. You go back up, you’re going to go over it exactly the same rate. So if you put four pounds of seed out normally, you’re going to put four pounds of coated seed out. You’re going to get half as many seeds. The reason we can do that is twice as many are going to germinate in outside, wild conditions.

Last thing I said was you’re going to get better grass, in general, and this is what this graph is showing. Yellow bar is our coated, blue uncoated, once again. This is turf quality. They rate turf quality up to nine. And so you can see every single one of these, turf quality was better. Bluegrass, not as much, not a statistical difference. Problem with bluegrass is — not a problem. The good thing with bluegrass is the genetics of it are so good now that the coating, the nutrients in it just don’t affect the color as much as some of these other grasses, or the vigor.

So you can see though, with ryegrass, huge difference in the visual appearance. Turf Saver RTF, just to give you an example. One other thing we don’t talk about a whole lot, but you’re putting this out there. And this one on the left here is XCD. That is a plant grown in a greenhouse with XCD. This one next to it is a plant grown in a greenhouse with no coating, no additives whatsoever. This is what would happen if you threw this plant down on a typical overseed. That’s what you’d get. These are all the same duration. I don’t remember the day. I think it was twenty-one days for this. These other two are different replications of different products we were testing. But you can see all the tillers that have come off of this plant. You can see the root mass that has developed on this plant because of that coating, because of the things in that coating. So it gives that plant a huge jumpstart.

So, some things you need to know. Use your regular rate for new seedings. Use your regular rate for overseeding rates. So whatever you’re going at, this is talking with coated seed. So if you’re going to switch to coated seed, use your regular rate. The germination percentage is way higher. I didn’t show data because I want to keep this short, but seedling survival is way higher. So what happens a lot of times is the seed’s able to germinate, it comes up. But it can’t get enough nutrients or enough moisture once it comes out of that seed coat, and it just dies out. With the coating on there, that coating is in the soil. So there’s nutrients there, there’s water holding there, so that seedling is more likely to survive. Additionally, there’s also that fungicide there. So that fungicide’s helping with seedling survival as well. So something just to think about here.

Consideration is the seed needs to be kept dry. If you don’t keep the seed dry, then it’s got absorbent technology on it, it sucks moisture in, and you’ll end up with a big ball of seed in the bag. So make sure it’s in a dry trailer. If you’re going to put it in the bed of a truck, I suggest putting it in a bucket or something so that it doesn’t get wet. I know other things bounce around in the back of those trucks and get things wet. So just be really careful with that.

Huge benefit, as well, is with that coating, it’s just not palatable to birds and mice. They just don’t like it. So when you go out and overseed, you won’t have a flush of birds come into the lawn and eating it. You won’t have mice getting into it in storage. In the twelve years I’ve sold coated seed, I’ve had one bag get broken into by a mouse, one single bag. We’re talking, I haven’t looked at numbers, but millions of bags of seed. So that’s a big factor, I think, from the storage component. If you don’t have the best storage, then that’s a very good thing.

Things to consider on the negative, not all rosy and positive. If you are putting this product, these coated seeds, through a seeder, please, please, please test your seeder with a small quantity. Some seeders, the way the mechanism gets seed from the hopper down into the ground does not work well with coated seed. It pinches it too hard and it crushes the coating. It can cause problems, things will gum up. So there are a couple of manufacturers that actually, when you open that hopper (and that’s the picture that was supposed to be over here) when you open that hopper up, there’s a sticker on there that says, “Do not use with coated seed,” because they know it’s going to be a problem. Most seeders work great.

But before you go off and buy a pallet or several pallets of this seed, if you’re going to run it through a mechanical seeder, then make sure it’s going to work. Because that’s really the only problem we have beyond people getting it wet, is it gets caught up in the seeder. If you’re going to do multiple locations over multiple days, please run your seeder out of seed or vacuum it back out. And I say the same thing with uncoated seed. When temperatures fluctuate, especially in the fall, and humidity fluctuates, you can get condensation in those hoppers, whether you’re using coated seed or not. And it can make things start to stick together and cause you problems. People don’t think about that normally. But that’s one thing I want to point out about that.

I told you I’d keep it short and sweet. I have zero questions in the question box here. I’ll give you a second here if you want to, but I’m done with my presentation. If you’ve got a question, throw it in that box or you can certainly find me on the website at Advanced Turf and shoot me an email. I will point out there also is a handout that comes along with this, our seed guide PDF is available. If you click on that you can download that right now before you leave so you can see what our options are and see what our options are for coated seed, if that interests you. But if that does interest you, talk to your salesperson, and we can get you some pricing on that and some more information about that. But I thank you very much for your time today, and have a great rest of the day. I will see you soon.