Going to seed: Another season of high demand ahead

·3 min read

Seed retailers and suppliers are expecting last year’s unprecedented demand for seed to continue into this year’s growing season.

“We did see such huge increases in demand starting as early as last March,” said Fraser Hetherington, executive vice president of Stokes Seeds in Thorold.

“That demand is increasing going into 2021,” he said.

Stokes is again seeing an uptick in orders from gardeners and commercial growers, who've been putting their orders in earlier.

Because retail orders have moved online, Stokes is better able to discern between old and new customers when order information is entered.

“We’re continuing to see many new home gardeners for the first time,” Hetherington said.

He thinks demand is being driven by people wanting control over their own food supply, along with “a little bit of stockpiling due to fears of supply.”

But fear not, Hetherington says: they’re not running out of seed.

Supply isn’t the challenge — it’s getting all the orders out the door.

Stokes recently added an afternoon shift for that very reason. The addition will hopefully allow more orders to be processed while also taking into account a need for physical spacing between employees.

Hetherington underscored just how vital the staff are to Stokes' ability to meet increasing demand.

Located outside of Niagara, in Dundas, William Dam Seeds has a number of regular purchasers located in the region.

“There is a lot of demand for seed; we have many, many orders in our system right now,” said Connie Bijl, flower and herb seed manager at William Dam.

“We’re excited that so many people enjoyed gardening enough to come back,” she added.

What they don’t have enough of, is time. And their hours these days have certainly been longer.

She compares the increase in demand to preparing for a 4-km race and it suddenly turning into 10 km midway.

They had to impose an order limit last year just to keep up.

Orders for this season already started picking up more than usual last November. January has also been very busy, Bijl said.

“People are at home, they’re looking for something to do,” she offered.

“We think that this year, people are getting used to the idea that shipping is slower than it was pre-pandemic,” she said.

In Niagara-on-the-Lake, at Sunshine Express Garden Centre, retail manager Phil Fluit, said they booked all their 2021 orders for product last May.

And he says sales reps at the companies they source from were expressing caution approaching winter last year, suggesting he may even want to get orders in ahead of time for 2022.

Fluit said they’re planning for this season to be similar to 2020 and said all of their products will be good to go by March, provided gardening centres will be allowed to open.

Even smaller seed retailers, like Linda Crago, owner of Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm in Wellandport, have been impacted by the increased demand.

“I needed a break over the last couple of months,” Crago said.

Seed sales are “definitely up,” she said, and she has already sold out of some of her more unique offerings.

“I don’t advertise my seeds, and sales have been good, so people are really looking,” she said.

Seedling pre-orders nearly doubled last year, and between the end of April and mid-May, she says more than 10,000 were sold.

People have been calling about seedlings for this season since last November.

Predicting that it would be harder to get what she needed for this coming season, Crago started purchasing products from across the world last fall

“I think this year’s going to be crazier still,” she said. “Seeds for the garden are like toilet paper.”

Jordan Snobelen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara this Week