LUCERNE seed growers are set for their earliest harvest in recent history, with the hot and dry summer speeding-up the season.
After three tough years, growers are in for a reward with good prices and strong demand.
Opening prices have not yet been released but are expected to be at least $5 a kilogram.
Tintinara producer Allan Manning is preparing to start harvesting his 60 hectares of dryland crops next week.
"We've never had a harvest start so early before," he said.
"It's quite incredible to be starting harvest now, it's normally the end of February before we get going, and often the start of March."
Mr Manning said it was a tough season for dryland lucerne.
"It was a brilliant winter, but then after early spring we ran out of moisture," he said.
"I think it shows what an incredible plant lucerne is, to go without rain for so many months, and for it still to yield seed is quite an accomplishment."
Lucerne Australia executive officer Nicola Raymond said dryland lucerne yields were likely to be down, due to lack of summer rain.
"For dryland lucerne, it's going to be an extremely early start to harvest," she said.
"Obviously the weather has had a significant impact on the timing of harvest, after hardly any significant rainfall in November or December."
Ms Raymond said irrigated lucerne seed producers, however, were set for a better year.
"The start of harvest for irrigated lucerne growers appears to be relatively consistent with other years," she said.
"It's been a fairly good season for them, with the hot weather. A lot of lucerne around the Keith district is in full flower now."
Ms Raymond said a good season could not come too soon for lucerne seed growers.
"Worldwide demand for lucerne seed is giving growers some confidence," she said.
"But, it's been a few really tough years in this district."
In 2010, a supply-demand imbalance saw prices drop to as low as $2.20 a kilogram. Then in 2011, growers achieved only a quarter to a half of normal yields.
"Last year there was a serious issue with lucerne seed wasp, which significantly affected yields," Ms Raymond said.
The pest was a particular disappointment for growers who were looking at a bumper Australian lucerne seed harvest last year based on the pod set achieved.
Yields fell by between 30 per cent and 50pc after the explosion in lucerne seed wasp populations.
The pest was prevalent in the 1990s but declined significantly through the 2000s after improved cultural practices. They rapidly rose last year following a wet summer.
"There are still a lot of nervous growers, hoping this will be a good year, after three tough ones," Ms Raymond said.
*Full report in Stock Journal, January 17 issue, 2013.