The Q&A Archives: Seed-pricing strategies

Question: Why is it that the same variety of seed, in the same quantity, can vary so widely in cost between two mail-order seed companies? Joseph Greco Oak Forest, IL

Answer: The costs of doing business and the market niche a mail-order seed company occupies are the major factors in setting seed prices, says Jim Waltrip, wholesale director at PetoSeed Company in Saticoy, California, and formerly in the retail mail-order seed business himself. A major cost, he notes, is the number of catalogs a company mails each year and the cost of producing that catalog. A company with a no-frills catalog has lower costs. A company that mails to a large number of gardeners, even ones whorarely buy from it, will have higher costs. Factors like these are ultimately reflected in the price of a packet of seed. Another major cost is the wholesale price of seed. For hybrid varieties, where there is typically just one supplier, the cost ofthe seed will be pretty much the same whether the retail company is large or small, according to Waltrip. And the quality of a hybrid seed will have little variation. But for open-pollinated varieties, costs and quality can vary tremendously. Gardeners can shop around for the best price of hybrid seed varieties more confidently than for open-pollinated varieties because hybrid seed quality is more consistent, says John Navasio, breeder at Garden City Seeds in Victor, Montana. With open-pollinated varieties, there can be a tremendous variation in the quality, vigor and performance within the same variety, depending on who's selecting the seed, he explains. I think the bottom line is that gardeners should give equal weight to service, good information and a seed company's reputation, says Waltrip. Low price alone should not be the deciding factor in selecting a company, he adds.

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