GCM’s 2021 Seed Update

The U.S. turf seed industry saw record sales in 2020, yet also saw a year fraught with challenges. What comes next for suppliers and buyers? Plus: Find profiles of 20 new turf varieties.


Turfgrass seed varieties
Photo by vladdon/Shutterstock

While the 2020 Seed Update was being prepared last spring, the United States was beginning to grapple with the reality of COVID-19 and what it might mean for nearly every facet of everyday life. At that time, the seed industry, like most businesses in the country, put into place what were thought to be temporary measures designed to protect the health and well-being of employees, suppliers and customers. Despite that early optimism, the pandemic is still with us a year later, and the temporary safety measures are still in place — and some of them may become permanent.

As if a global pandemic weren’t enough, over the past year, the turfgrass seed industry in the U.S. also endured other challenges that echo biblical plagues: pestilence (gray-tailed voles), wildfires and a near-apocalyptic ice storm. Despite these extreme challenges and some more mundane problems that were side effects of the pandemic, seed companies have actually prospered, achieving record sales. How has the past year played out, and what does the future hold for turf seed companies and their customers?

Plague No. 1: Voles

The gray-tailed vole is endemic to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where it thrives on the area’s commercial turfgrass seed farms. This species has a 40-day breeding cycle (a female can be born and reproduce four to five offspring within 40 days) that repeats continuously over seven months, from May to December. The army of voles moves like mowers through the fields, chewing off one stem after another until most of the grass plants have been destroyed.

In 2020, one farmer reported to the Oregon Seed Council that one area that usually produces tall fescue seed at the rate of 2,000 pounds or more per acre delivered only about 300 pounds per acre. The only way to prevent the voles from coming back is to completely destroy the turfgrass field and replant in spring. As a result, turfgrass farmers lost millions of dollars in 2020.

Unfortunately, gray-tailed voles are particularly difficult to control — even extreme measures, such as removing 70% of their habitat, do not discourage them. The primary chemical control for the pest is zinc phosphide, but its use is restricted because it is harmful to the Canada geese that overwinter in Oregon seed fields. In recent years, the Oregon Department of Agriculture has extended the period when the zinc phosphide pellets can be applied so that farmers can start as early as mid-April (after the geese have left) and continue applications until Sept. 15.

Fortunately, vole populations are cyclic, and a year like 2020 is generally followed by about 10 years of gradually decreasing populations and significantly less damage to turfgrass fields until the next outbreak occurs. Although little research has been done on vole control, experience has shown that a devastating recurrence is inevitable. For this reason, and because of the wake-up call presented by the massive explosion of the vole population in 2020, the USDA National Wildlife Research Center has proposed a study on vole control, and the Oregon Seed Council and the three Oregon grass seed commissions have agreed to provide $71,500 in funding. Seed farmers have been urged to cooperate by allowing research to take place on their property if they are contacted by Oregon State University, the USDA or the Oregon Seed Council.

Plague No. 2: Wildfires

Devastating wildfires overwhelmed much of the western U.S. in the summer of 2020. In Oregon alone, more than a million acres were burned — more than in any year except for 2012 — and over 4,000 homes were destroyed. Two of the largest fires, the Lionshead fire and the Beachie Creek fire, were in the Willamette Valley, home of most of the state’s turfgrass seed farmers. Both started on Aug. 16 and merged on Sept. 8. The Lionshead fire (in Linn, Marion and Wasco counties) was not contained until Nov. 13, but the Beachie Creek fire (in Clackamas, Linn and Marion counties) was contained more than two weeks earlier, on Oct. 28.

Smoke was a health hazard to the farmers, some of whom were forced to delay overseeding the crops. The smoke also obscured sunlight, lowering soil temperatures and delaying seedling growth.

Oregon fires turfgrass
A view of downtown Portland, Ore., as wildfires raged in the region on Sept. 9, 2020. Photo by Tedder/Wikimedia Commons

Crystal Rose Fricker, president of Pure Seed, reports that some employees who lost homes in the fire still came to work, but at times seed packaging and cleaning warehouses at Pure Seed and other companies throughout the valley were forced to close because of poor air quality. DLF Pickseed completely shut down some of its facilities the week of Sept. 7, forcing customers to seek alternative seed sources during that time.

Plague No. 3: The ice storm

Wildlife and wildfires were not the only natural disasters the seed industry sustained. An arctic storm hit many parts of the U.S. in mid-February 2021, and it did not spare Oregon, which generally experiences a severe ice storm once every 20 to 25 years. The 2021 event, considered the worst in 40 years, extended south from Portland through the Willamette Valley and continued down to Eugene, about halfway down the western side of the state.

More than an inch of ice downed power lines, felled tens of thousands of trees, closed roads, and left more than 730,000 homes and businesses without power. Many people did not have heat, and those who rely on well water did not have water. Fricker says Pure Seed headquarters in Canby, Ore., did not have power for 11 days, but some employees, many of whom had no electricity at home, bundled up and came to work to process seed orders. Southwest of Canby, the Corvallis area, which is home to DLF Pickseed USA, did not suffer quite as much, but residents and businesses there did endure six days without power, says Leah Brilman, Ph.D., the company’s director of product management and technical services.

At a time when seed companies were already struggling to keep pace with the high number of seed orders, the ice storm prevented some employees from coming to work, and the lack of internet connections and electrical power coupled with hazardous roads delayed processing and shipping of some orders. The good news was that the ice storm had no effect on 2020 seed yield.

The state of the turfgrass seed industry

Record sales of turfgrass seed have ensured a financially successful year at the same time that turfgrass seed companies in Oregon and elsewhere face increased challenges.

“We don’t have any perennial rye,” says Brilman at DLF Pickseed, noting low yields per acre this year and high sales on all products. DLF Pickseed stopped selling perennial ryegrass seed in October. Supplies are also short in Europe, and some are using intermediate ryegrass or turf-type annual ryegrass in perennial ryegrass’s place. Where perennial ryegrass is available, it is very expensive.

As of March 28, Brilman was unsure whether armyworms and excessive cold and lack of snow (in other words, moisture) in Minnesota and Canada had severely reduced crop yield. In addition, in Oregon, the fields for Chewings and red fescues could not be burned by the farmers, so their yields will be down this year.

All the companies that responded acknowledged the impact of the voles, wildfires and the ice storm but were still gratified by the high demand for grass seed even as they were stretched — “20/7, not 24/7,” as Fricker noted — to clean, process and distribute their product.

Turgrass seed 2021
Photo by Mick Haupt/Unsplash

At Barenbrug, which recently acquired Jacklin Seed, officials also pointed out that the pandemic-related problems present in early 2020 remain, and processes are continually being modified to meet them. COVID-19 protocols and transportation of seed to national and international customers continue to be challenging.

As for the new cultivars, Fricker says the timing was difficult this year. Several factors determine whether a cultivar will be released, and sometimes time works against the seed company. The cultivar must be named, and the name must be approved by the federal government, and seed stock should be plentiful so customers will actually be able to buy the product. In 2021, several companies felt the best course was to sell the seed they had and wait another year to allow enough time for name approval to ensure availability of adequate seed supplies.

2021’s new turfgrass varieties

In the introduction to last year’s Seed Update, we assured readers, based on comments from leaders in the turfgrass seed industry, that in 2021, the turfgrass seed companies expected to release a larger number of new varieties of ryegrasses, tall fescues and possibly fine fescues. Kentucky bluegrasses and fine fescues were also expected in the next few years.

Of course, no one, not even those who had been in the industry for many years, could have imagined the good, the bad and the ugly that would be 2020 and its effects on 2021. As a result, this year’s Seed Update has only 20 varieties, exactly three more than the 2020 Seed Update, including one intermediate ryegrass and two fine fescues. Tall fescues, however, do dominate the entries, with 10 cultivars, seven of which are from Mountain View Seeds. There are also two entries for Kentucky bluegrasses, both of which are from Landmark Turf & Native Seed and were in the 2018 National Turfgrass Evaluation Program trial (data from that trial are not ready for publication but can be seen on the NTEP website).

The turfgrasses in the Seed Update are listed in alphabetical order by their English species name, and varieties are listed alphabetically within a species. In a few cases, the experimental name or number is included in parentheses after the cultivar name, which may make it easier to locate NTEP trial results. The information supplied here is provided by the seed companies that produce and sell the product. For more information, please contact the companies or the research programs listed in “Contributors to GCM’s 2021 Seed Update,” below.

Editor’s note: Barenbrug USA, DLF Pickseed, the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program, the Oregon Seed Council and Pure Seed provided information for this article.

New turfgrass varieties, 2021

Chewings fescue

Leeward, DLF Pickseed USA
Limited availability now; full availability fall 2021
Excellent turf quality
High resistance to Microdochium patch, leaf spot, dollar spot, red thread and summer patch
Superior traffic tolerance
High resistance to heat and shade
Superior performance at all mowing heights, from fairways to no-mow
2014 NTEP

Creeping bentgrass

007XL, Seed Research of Oregon/DLF Pickseed USA
Limited quantities now; higher quantities fall 2021
No. 1 bentgrass variety for overall turf quality ratings over a four-year period at Rutgers University
Excellent dollar spot and anthracnose resistance
Early spring green-up and excellent wear tolerance
Moderate green leaf color; fine leaf texture; high turf density
Tolerates low mowing height down to .105 inch (2.67 millimeters)
2020 NTEP, fall planting; Rutgers

Kingdom, Barenbrug USA
Seed available now
Dark green color
Fine leaf texture
Early spring green-up
Anthracnose, dollar spot, brown patch, fairy ring and pink snow mold resistance
Competitive against annual bluegrass
2014 NTEP

Matchplay, Landmark Turf & Native Seed
Next-generation heat tolerance and disease resistance
Medium dark green color
Optimum density without puffiness and specialty maintenance
Quick divot and ball mark recovery
Extensive genetic diversity
Early spring activity and green-up

Oakley, Mountain View Seeds
Good supplies expected fall 2021/spring 2022
Highest turf quality
Excellent disease resistance
Superior wear tolerance
Use on tees, greens and fairways
2020 NTEP; Rutgers

Piper, Mountain View Seeds
Good supplies expected fall 2021/spring 2022
Highest turf quality
Excellent disease resistance
Superior wear tolerance
Use on tees, greens and fairways
2020 NTEP; Rutgers

Creeping red fescue

Simmons, Vista Seed Partners
Available now in limited quantities
Strong creeping red fescue with impressive spreading ability
Excellent heat tolerance
Excellent overall disease resistance
Developed at Rutgers University with Peak Plant Genetics

Intermediate ryegrass

Remedy, DLF Pickseed USA
Available now
Superior overseeding performance
Excellent low-temperature germination
Fine leaf texture; darker green color
Germinates faster than perennial ryegrass, particularly in cooler conditions
Bred to disappear smoothly and quickly in the late spring as bermudagrass is ready to grow
2012, 2013 and 2016 University of Arizona overseeding trials

Kentucky bluegrass

United, Landmark Turf & Native Seed
Available now
Medium-fine texture
Medium dark green color
Heat-, traffic- and drought-tolerant
Low-mow; low-input
Resistance to summer patch, crown rust and dollar spot
2018 NTEP

Yellowstone, Landmark Turf & Native Seed
Available now
Medium dark green color
Medium leaf texture
Improved winter color
Improved resistance to pink snow mold, crown rust and dollar spot
2018 NTEP

Tall fescue

Avenger III (PPG-TF 308), Mountain View Seeds
Good supplies expected fall 2021/spring 2022
Good brown patch resistance
Resistant to drought stress
High quality in cold climates
Dark green fall color
2018 NTEP

Dynamite G-LS (PPG-TF 254), Mountain View Seeds
Good supplies expected fall 2021/spring 2022
Great seedling vigor
Quickest tillering
NTEP shade winner
Highest quality in fall
2018 NTEP

Firecracker G-LS (PPG-TF 308), Mountain View Seeds
Good supplies expected fall 2021/spring 2022
Gray leaf spot resistant
Lateral Spread (LS) technology
Dense, compact growth
Tops in NTEP quality scores
2018 NTEP

Raceway, Seed Research of Oregon/DLF Pickseed USA
Available fall 2021
Excellent turf quality
Superior gray leaf spot resistance; high resistance to Pythium and brown patch
Good wear, shade and drought tolerance
Rapid establishment
Dark green color
2018 NTEP; Rutgers

Raptor LS (PPG-TF 336), Mountain View Seeds
Good supplies expected fall 2021/spring 2022
Dark green color
Aggressive establishment
Elite NTEP performance
High wear tolerance
2019 NTEP

Spyder 2LS (ZRC-1), Mountain View Seeds
Good supplies expected fall 2021/spring 2022
Second-generation version
High NTEP quality scores
Good lateral spread
Very fine leaf texture
2018 NTEP

Stealth (PPG-TF 238), Mountain View Seeds
Good supplies expected fall 2021/spring 2022
High Northeast NTEP scores
Low-mow ability
Strong year-round cover ratings
Quickest establishment
2018 NTEP

Titanium G-LS (PPG-TF 255), Mountain View Seeds
Good supplies expected fall 2021/spring 2022
Highest NTEP turf quality across all regions
Dense and compact
Excellent genetic color
Exceptional gray leaf spot and Pythium resistance
2018 NTEP

Xanadu, Barenbrug USA
Available fall 2021
Medium to dark green color
Fine leaf texture
Traffic, shade and drought tolerance
Brown patch and Pythium blight resistance
2018 NTEP; 2018 New Jersey turf trials

Zion, Barenbrug USA
Available later this year
Fine leaf texture
Medium green color
Early spring green-up
Traffic, shade and drought tolerance
Gray leaf spot resistance
2018 NTEP

Contributors to GCM’s 2021 Seed Update

Barenbrug USA
Contact: Alyssa Cain
33477 Highway 99E
Tangent, OR 97389
Twitter: @BarenbrugUSA

DLF Pickseed USA/Seed Research of Oregon
Contact: Sean Chaney
Twitter: @DLFPickseed; @SROgerminati

Jacklin Seed
Contact: Margaret Childers
23403 E. Mission #222
Liberty Lake, WA 99019
Twitter: @BarenbrugUSA

Landmark Turf & Native Seed
800-268-0180 (toll-free)
509-835-4969 (fax)
P.O. Box 19250
Spokane, WA 99224
Twitter: @Landmarkseed

Mountain View Seeds
Contact: Duane Klundt
8955 Sunnyview Road NE
Salem, OR 97305
Twitter: @MtnView_Seeds

Vista Seed Partners
Contact: Christie McDowell
P.O. Box 30
Shedd, OR 97377

Research resources

National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP)
Kevin Morris, executive director
301-504-5167 (fax)
10300 Baltimore Ave., Bldg. 005, Room 307
Beltsville, MD 20705

University of Arizona
David Kopec, Ph.D., turfgrass extension specialist (retired)
Maricopa County Cooperative Extension
4341 E. Broadway Road
Phoenix, AZ 85040

Rutgers University
Stacey Bonos, Ph.D., director of the Turfgrass Breeding Project
59 Dudley Road
Foran Hall, Room 239
New Brunswick, NJ 08901

Teresa Carson is a freelance writer and editor who served as GCM’s senior science editor for nearly 22 years prior to her retirement at the end of 2020.