What do cars, chickens, computer chips and flowers all have in common? They’re all seeing shortages due to pandemic woes.

If you browsed seed catalogs earlier in the year, you may have noticed many varieties sold out and companies not taking orders entirely. Local greenhouse growers report that obtaining seeds was difficult this year as well.

Marge Agnew, owner of Agnew Hardware Hank, along with her husband Scott, said that there were some items she couldn’t get this year and last due to pandemic shortages. But overall, her supplier planned for the increased demand, and it helped that she ordered early. “My supplier geared up last year ordered when I ordered. They were seeing increases in purchases and requests,” said Agnew. “And some things I couldn’t get last year or this year, such as perennials like clematis. I was able to get nice substitutes for them, however. But we’re pretty set for the season.”

The Minnesota Extension Office stated that the shortages we’re seeing doesn’t necessarily mean there are actual shortages, however.

A surge in demand

Last year, states the Extension website, we saw unprecedented seed sales at the onset of COVID-19, and companies struggled to keep up with demand. Griffin, a large horticultural supply company, conducted a survey of 1,000 first time gardeners in 2020, and 80% of them said that they would probably or definitely continue gardening in 2021. Based on early seed sales in 2021, it seems that the resurgence in gardening is indeed going to continue this year.

Many companies responded to the pandemic by ordering more seed for 2021. Seed companies buy from farmers, who grow crops specifically for seed, and so this meant bringing in new growers and asking current growers to produce more seed for this year, the Extension Office said. However, many of these contracts are negotiated early in the year (pre-pandemic in 2020), so some companies may not have been able to account for the increased demand last year.

Another reason for the shortage is delays in packing. Seed companies tend to store seeds in bulk, and repackage them into seed packets throughout the year. Due to COVID-19 workplace safety precautions, this process has been slow for many companies.

While many seed companies anticipated higher demand, they continue to operate more slowly than they would in non-pandemic conditions, which means it can be difficult to keep up with orders. Smaller seed companies may just have one or two people processing orders, so with increasing demand, it’s both hard to keep up and hard to predict availability.

Sunshine Flower Shoppe owner, Mary Pat Sorvik, said her greenhouse plant and flower supply is “pretty good” because they’re grown locally, but said she is having a supply chain issue with green plants grown in South American. She said many of the imported plants and flowers are seeing shortages due to fewer flights.

“Some hard goods like glass vases and floral foams are hard to get,” said Sorvik. “We always have to have a plan A or plan B. In my 37 years, I have never seen anything like this.”

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